Liz sighed in relief as she confirmed nothing was following them up the beanstalk. Turning forward she joined the rest of the party in the room at the top. Contrary to the rest of this piratical nightmare, the room was disturbingly boring. Liz nervously glanced around to see if there was some catch. The room resembled a typical pre-apocalypse office space and there was a single terminal sitting on a desk in the middle.
Jocelyn wasted no time and rushed over to plug in her laptop into the lonely terminal. A few seconds later and a hi-pitched "WoHoo!" indicated she had some success with the process. The clicking of keys was the only thing anyone could hear as Jocelyn's entire focus directed itself towards the screen. Liz started milling about nervously.
"Is everything ok? Did we get here in time? Were you able to get in?" Liz questioned.
"Mph." Jocelyn replied unhelpfully.
"Is that 'Mph' we're good, or 'Mph' the world is going to end, again?" Mark tried to get some clarification.
"Mpmeh! GRrrrr!" Jocelyn was obviously in the zone and Liz gently put a hand on Mark's shoulder.
"Let's just give her some space for now. I think there would be more swearing if things were really bad. Is everyone else ok?" Liz looked around to the tired faces of their group. Now that the adrenaline rush from the events had passed, everyone seemed to be crashing.
"Just exhausted. I've never hopped around that much with Biscuit before. It was crazy." Elly said as she slumped against Biscuit.
"Biscuit tired now. Take nap. Wake when finish save world." Biscuit agreed as he closed his eyes. Apparently unicorns sleep standing up.
"Good idea, poke me when we're done here." Elly, still leaning against him, did the same.
Liz just nodded. There didn't seemed to be much else to do as they waited for Jocelyn to do whatever it was she needed to do. Mark and George were off in a corner laughing and gesturing wildly. Apparently swapping tales of what had been going on the past week. She smiled softly. Mark hadn't been his usual goofy self the past few days and it was good to see him unload a bit. She knew she wasn't very good at making things easy for him, and having Geroge around would help keep things balanced. Thinking about it, she took a few deep breaths trying to find some balance as well.
She knew there was a world of crazy out there waiting for them, but there was only so much she could do. She worried about her parents and the zombie attack. She worried about the group outside during the manastorm. She worried about humanity's chances during this entire thing. She could only tackle what was in front of her though, and try to do the best with what was available to her. If she tried to do more, she'd just drive herself crazy. One thing at a time.
Speaking of which, she looked over to Jocelyn to see if there was anything else she could figure out about what was going on. There was nothing to do about it for now though, so Liz sat down and simply allowed herself to relax. This is where she needed to be, and everything else had to wait. A few minutes passed like this with the only sound in the room being the hitting of keys and occasional grunt by Jocelyn and the babbling of George and Mark. Mike simply sat quietly with Liz.
Jocelyn the happiest grunt Liz had heard so far and viciously pressed the enter key with dramatic flair. "Got it. Got it you jerkfaced Pirate jerk. We're in. Pull request approved. Update started" Liz felt a shudder and everyone looked around nervously. Everyone milled about nervously as the structure shook and warning screens in red popped up in front of them. That never had happened before. Before panic set in, words started flashing across the screen. The room immediately focused on the scroll text and a pin could have been heard in the ensuing silence. Line by line, they finally were starting to understand what was going on with the world.
The silence in the room was palpable as everyone absorbed the message that appeared in front of them. It provided many answers, but also gave life to many more questions. Jocelyn looked even more drained than before. Liz figured she must have been abusing her power something fierce to do whatever it was she just did. Regardless, it looked like they had succeeded. Liz hoped beyond all hope that the mysterious admins of the system were truly looking to do good, and they hadn't just empowered a bunch of tyrants, but only time would tell.
"Well, I think that's that. I think,” she took another breath, letting the message and current events sweep by her, “I think we’re done.” She started towards the clearly marked exit in the office she was in and the group turned in behind her.
The way out was much more convenient that the way in, and while it put them somewhat off the beaten path from the main entrance, a small opening let them all exit the dungeon without having to retrace their steps. Following the outer wall of the construct lead them to the entrance where they found the sheriff’s crew waiting. The looked somewhat worse for wear, and their small fort was largely demolished. George rushed over to check on everyone.
“You all ok?” He asked with concern.
No one had any major injuries, but apparently the King Kong ape had come up. The football team described an epic battle they they thought they would lose until suddenly, a little before the red message appeared, the beast retreated back into the dungeon. The small attacks after that from random beasts in the area weren’t much concern, but everyone was eager to get going. Liz frowned as they completed their tale and let her know a last bit of info.
During the chaos, Lance had managed to slip away. No one knew what direction he fled, but at the moment no one had the energy to try and find him. All they could do was hope he was ok and would somehow find his way back. They agreed that if he turned up anywhere, he’d be turned over to the Mountain Lake Highschool group.
“You’ll need to come up with a better name too, it’s not really a high school anymore you know.” Mark noted.
“Yeah, we’re thinking Mountain Lake Point, just haven’t gotten around to making it official yet.” The sheriff replied, in good spirits despite having lost his prisoner. The message had brought a sense of direction that was missing before. The effects were apparent on the face of everyone in the group.
“Maybe we can do this. Maybe we can fix this. Things will get better.” The sheriff said with genuine hope in his voice. It was easy to forget that the adults around them had been shouldering the burden of keeping everyone moving when they had no idea if survival was even going to be an option. It was amazing how much a little information could change things.
“Well, maybe things will get better in the near future, but there was a mass of zombies trying to eat our parents before, so I think we’re going to jet and see if we can do something about that.” Liz said as she secured her bow.
“I’m coming with. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Mom and everything should be cool at school now.” George was emphatic with his statement and the sheriff nodded in agreement. It was time to get things cleared up.
Liz shouldn’t have been surprised. Sometimes it was easy to forget that your dad was actually a killing machine of terrifying proportions. Still, it was hard to keep from being overawed at the scene that greeted them at home. Thousands of corpses had been stacked along the road around the house, each one with a single bullet wound visible. The bitterness Liz had felt about the times Dad had missed recitals, or sports games, or anything else Liz was doing fadded away. She had always wondered why he focused so much on shooting when it seems so impractical. Looking at the piles of corpses she knew. This was why. Because somehow, beyond all expectation and reason, he was getting ready for this.
“Liz! Mark! You’re back! How did it go?” Dad was waving as he spritzed something on a mouldering body.
“Uh, good, George is here too.” Liz indicated the tall youth behind her.
“Yo Mr. R! Heard that you might need some help, but it all seems ok now.”
“George! You managed to escape then? Where’s Lance?” Dad asked curiously.
“Yeah, about that, let’s talk.” Mark stepped forward and started to lead their dad away. That was probably going to be an uncomfortable conversation, and Liz was impressed that Mark had taken the initiative. ‘Better him than me’, she thought. “George, I’m betting your mom will be in the house somewhere, you should go catch up too.”
“I need to check in on a few things. With all the updates, and the new permissions I have, I think I’ll see if I can clean up some stuff for people’s UI. Thanks for helping me there Liz. I absolutely couldn’t have done this without you. Thanks.” Jocelyn gave Liz a hug.
Elly came over and joined in. Mike shrugged and piled in as well. Group hug then.
The awkwardness became a bit too strong for the teens to all bear, and with a quick laugh they broke the hug and went to catch up on what was going on. Liz took a deep breath and headed into the lab. She was relatively certain she could find her mom there doing whatever it was that needed doing.
Sure enough, Mom looking tired but smiling as she mixed up a giant vat of something. “That the fungicide stuff Dad was spraying on everything?” Liz asked.
“Liz! You made it! Yes, It is. Thank you for getting that update in. The message was critical.” Mom rushed over and gave Liz a crushing hug. Her small frame applied a disproportionate amount of force in it and Liz grunted at the pressure. “We’re finally going to be able to start untangling this mess.”
For the first time in a week, Liz felt herself truly unwind. It had been a few weeks, but it had been the longest most brutal gauntlet she had ever weathered. As her mind and body finally relaxed she was surprised to notice her eyes were blurry with tears.
“It’s okay love. Things will be better now. We can do this. It’s thanks to you and your work too. You did great.”
It had been brutal, and Liz had done her best to be the warrior she didn’t want to be. She had fought off monsters of human and fantastical variety. She had pushed and honed her skills beyond anything she had ever thought possible. She had driven and supported those around her to try and help them survive, and she was utterly exhausted.
Mom mumbled some comforting words but they were lost in the sobs that finally had found their way out. She had done it though. Her family was alive, her friends were still with her, and things were now turned around for the better. She had done it, with help from every angle, but she had done her part.
And she was ready to be done.
So she stood there hugging her mom and sobbing. She was done.
At least for a bit.