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Jen poked my side. “You’re not going to help them with the boar?”

“No, they don’t need me.” They really don’t. Jacob said the hardest part was butchering the pig. Now they’re just salting and curing it, getting it ready to smoke.

Jen poked my side again. “Oh. Well, why didn’t you bring any back? I promised those two hunters large slices of it.”

“The camp isn’t going to eat it now.” I asked the cooks about it. “They’re saving it for the winter.”

“Really?” Jen scratched her head and took a step back. “I guess that promise will be fulfilled a couple months from now. But I’m glad. The people here are actually thinking that far ahead.”

“Yeah, they have a really nice system set up. A stable shelter. Quarantine methods to prevent the infection from spreading. A first-aid center. A farm. A source of water. And they even have a communication network.”

“Communication network? Why haven’t I heard about that?”

I hadn’t heard about it until recently as well. “Inside the kitchen, there was a radio. The cooks told me there’s at least thirteen different places similar to this one with survivors growing their own food or surviving via hunting instead of plundering shops.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

Jen and I turned around. One of the hunters inside the prison leaned against the door of his cell. He smiled. “While we’re outside, we also have walkie-talkies for short-ranged communication. We tend not to leave its range while hunting, but sometimes, it can’t be helped.” He chuckled. “But you know, long-distance communication via radios isn’t all great. Anyone can listen in if they’re on the right frequency, including raiders and looters.”

Jen frowned. “Doesn’t that mean we’re in danger?”

“Nah.” The hunter shook his head. “They used to be a huge problem in the early days. But I imagine most of them have died off by now. Not knowing when you’ll die, not having a safe harbor, the toll it takes on you is heavy. You can’t even trust your companions; they’re people who kill and steal from others to survive. Who’s to say they won’t do the same to you? Yeah, groups like them don’t last very long. Once they pillage everything they can get their hands on, they turn on each other.” The hunter sighed and leaned on the fence even more. “The raiders aren’t even the worst part about having long-distance communication. Do you know what is?”

When people are stuck in prison, depending on the person, they either become really withdrawn, or they become really talkative. I don’t blame them. It’s boring without entertainment. “If it’s not raiders or looters, could it be an organized group that supplements their supplies by pillaging?”

The hunter snorted. “No, didn’t I say groups like those don’t last very long? It’s the silence, man. The silence.”

“The silence?” Jen asked.

“Yeah,” the hunter said. “The silence. One day, you’re talking with a camp, say The Log Cabins. You wake up at night to screams and shouts coming from the radio. Then, silence. You ask and ask, trying to communicate with them. And you get nothing back. It’s not dangerous like raiders discovering your existence. But it wears on the soul, you know? Those people”—he snapped his fingers—“gone. Just like that. And you lay awake at night, wondering, thinking. Those people, they’re just like us. They survived for this long. How’d they die? What happened? Are we next?”

“Shut up. You’re being depressing.”

The hunter laughed despite the other prisoners cursing at him. “But am I wrong? All of you heard, didn’t you? The ranger station was wiped out yesterday. The wardens were talking about it all night.”

Is that so? Jen and I have the morning shift. At night, we’re replaced by other people. It’s not like we can watch over the prison constantly. We need sleep too. “Ranger station. That’s my first time hearing about them. How prepared were they compared to this place?”

“They were crazy prepared,” the hunter said. “I’ve been there once or twice, and let me tell you, even a horde of a hundred couldn’t take it down. They had traps everywhere. Their fence was practically made for killing infected. How the hell did they fall? The only possibility I can think of is one of their hunters was infected and hid it from them. They didn’t have as many people as us, so their quarantine wasn’t as harsh. It’s not practical to keep someone locked up for a week and not have them contribute when there’s so few people.”

I suppose that’s true. In a small group, everyone has to contribute. If someone doesn’t do anything for a week but still gets fed, the others won’t think it’s fair. But at the same time, it’s dangerous to quarantine someone for less than a week. Signs of infection can take up to a few days before showing. Sometimes it can take up to a couple of minutes. It depends on how they were infected and the location of the original infection. Getting bit on the neck is going to turn someone a lot faster than being scraped on the leg by something with infected blood on it. “The person in charge here, he must be an incredible guy.”

“The chief?” the hunter asked. “Of course. Do you think we’d be following him if he wasn’t? He created this place from scratch, fended off dozens of raids, secured all the right supplies for survival. Without him, this place wouldn’t exist. The other camps around us wouldn’t exist either. Because he established this place, the number of infected went down drastically. If the day ever comes when the apocalypse is over, the chief’s name will definitely be recorded in history.”

Jen scratched her head. “I want to meet him now.”

“You two have only been here for what, less than a week? Not counting your quarantine, of course.” The hunter nodded. “You’ll meet him eventually. He’s usually cooped up in his room.”

Is that how a leader should act? The garrison isn’t that large. He probably stays away from the quarantined area since there’s a risk of infection. And I’ll admit the smell coming from the painters’ building isn’t that pleasant. But to not have seen him while getting food from the kitchens or from walking between the prison and the sleeping area for the past two days, it’s a little odd. For how charismatic of a light he’s painted in, he sure hasn’t shown it yet. “What does he do in his room?”

The hunter shrugged. “Who knows? Chief stuff. Keeping this place running probably takes a lot of brain power.”

Could something have happened to make him not want to show his face? Maybe he’s infected and trying to hide it. Maybe he has a tragic past where his child was infected and he’s trying to hide her to keep her alive like that one plot point in a popular zombie apocalypse show. Even if he is, it doesn’t change the fact he’s created a really good place. I really do want to meet him now.

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Virlyce

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