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Drottningville

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Three experiences on the Zombie Outbreak

'All this talk about internet films with so called dead people biting and eating other people made me think of The war of the worlds, says James Nielsen. 'Our grandchildren were staying with us for a few weeks and I much rather spent time with them, than worrying because of some silly prank. I thought that the President had been influenced by nutters when he gave his statement. Wyatt came to see us a few hours later and told us to come with him but ever since he started building that wall of his, I thought he had gone crazy. My Caroline however was eager to accept his invitation and we moved across the road. The first time I realised that it was for real was a few days later when Randall returned from Helsing bringing his sister's turned remains.' (interview CB, 2010-1)

'I had a friend who liked movies like Saw [a series of films about a sadistic psychopath who kills "sinners", CB]. He sent me videos of creepy looking people biting screaming people,' says Fred London. 'I thought it was some Bollywood film, but then without the dancing and singing. The videos kept coming but for many weeks I thought it was fake. It looked real, but they could also make realistic looking films about space travel you know? Maybe in the future people will wonder how we could think it wasn't for real. But they won't know movies and shows the way we do. And it wasn't as if it was everywhere: there was also a lot of attention for other stuff. A new comedy, a famous singer getting a divorce, Congress discussing an environmental bill, and the usual things: work, friends, sports, stuff like that. It wasn't until 12 July, when the President said that there was a virus making people act the way we'd seen in videos, that I believed it. But still I didn't think it had anything to do with me. I mean: it took a bitten person for things to get dangerous and there were no such people in Helsing. When Randall invited me to come to his place, I declined.' (interview CB, 2012-9)

'My friends were among the first who realised what was coming,' says Penny Drottning. 'I didn't believe them when they told me about it for zombies were like vampires and hobbits to me: fictional. When the guys participated in a survival weekend I'd set up and Sheldon slaughtered a hare, I knew it was for real: in the old world Sheldon ran away if only I talked about gutting a fish or so. For six weeks I joined them in their preparations and then it all started. We got out of Pasadena, save for Howard's mum, Mrs Wolowitz, who hadn't made it. Even before we'd left the neighbourhood I'd killed my first zombie. It helped that it wasn't someone we knew. It also helped that the guys were so shocked by the things we saw that I had to protect them: I didn't have the opportunity to feel sick. If I have to name one emotion that took hold of me back then, it was anger. Anger because of all those people dying, anger at how the world had changed, anger at abandoned cars and at front doors that stood wide open and anger at men and zombies attacking us.' (interview CB, 2011-5)

(From The histories of the people of Drottningville, Cynthia Böhr (ed.), first edition April 2025 CE)

How the plague started in Helsing

On 12 July 2010 the White House acknowledged what was styled as the outbreak of virus 42-06. For nearly two weeks then rumours had spread that a virus from India caused people to become cannibals and gruesome internet videos (that were being blocked after the President's statement) had added to the tension.

'There were teenagers in the village and at the mall who liked to walk like those in the YouTube videos did and scare others that way. Some even bit people,' says doctor Ramona Jung. 'I got my first patient asking for a tetanus injection on 9 July. This was a Mrs Van Dyke. I checked on her the next morning and she was fine. On my website I advised people to have a tetanus shot in case they'd been bitten. When Miss Lindberg asked me to come by to give her partner, Mr Jones, a tetanus injection, I could tell them that he was number eighteen already. That was on 15 July. Mr Jones had told me he'd had an encounter with a homeless man at the mall, the one legged Mr Noah Forbes, who was known for behaving wildly and loudly and for occasionally attacking people. Mr Jones always offered Mr Forbes food and Mr Forbes didn't always receive that gracefully. This time Mr Forbes had even bitten him, but Mr Jones wasn't concerned. When I checked on him the next morning I found police at his place though.' (interview CB, 2010-2)

Mr Jones and his partner had died. According to the official police statement they died of heart-attacks, caused by the general panic and their ages (they were both in their eighties), but it didn't take long for rumours to spread.

'A patient of Ramona had seen men in white protective clothing behind the mall late in the evening of 14 July,' recalls Melody Stewart. 'Another claimed that the policemen who got out of Mr Jones's house had blood stains on their uniforms and looked utterly shocked.' (interview CB, 2011-8)

Based on an investigation by Rajesh Koothrappali and Sheldon Lee Cooper held in April 2011 at the police station of Helsing, this is what very likely took place: On 14 July three hikers made camp on land owned by the Olsson siblings. Earl Olsson told them to leave, but seeing that one of the hikers was feverish, he allowed them to stay, but only for a few hours. He asked the police to have a look later that day.

'We'd heard stuff on the radio,' says Earl Olsson, 'but we didn't buy that crap. Cannibals? Ha! We reasoned it was all a stunt for some film, like what they did with that film about a witch. Record something at night using a hand-held camera and use a lot of fake blood and money will come flowing to you. Hell, what did we know. Anyhow, I didn't recall anything about people getting feverish, so I wasn't alarmed, I just wanted them off our land.' (interview CB, 2011-7)

The hikers left in the evening of 14 July to set up camp behind the mall. A guard, Mrs Julia Wood, found two dead bodies (IDs telling them to be Florence Cook and Harrison Diamond) in a tent. Both had been shut in the head and the police report – that was kept a secret – confirmed that they'd both had bite marks and that they'd turned. The third hiker (whose ID read Paul Jun) was found at the other side of the mall, near the place where Mr Forbes often spent the night. His head was smashed in. On 16 July it was found that one of Mr Forbes's crutches had dried blood on it, so it is likely that the third zombie attacked him and – seeing what happened to Mr Jones – bit him before Mr Forbes could kill him. Mr Forbes took his spot near the mall's entrance, where Mr Randall Drottning saw him at seven in the morning of 15 July. Two hours later on Mr Jones gave Mr Forbes some food and he got bitten. Mr Jones very likely turned late in the evening or at night and then attacked his partner. An anonymous call to the Helsing police station at half past eight on 16 July alerted the police. They found what remained of Miss Lindberg and were appalled when she turned out to be "alive". Mr Jones's walking corpse had made it outside, where he got trapped in barb wire in the back yard and still made an effort to attack the policemen (Brian Gustafsson, Helen Jonsson and Martin Owusu). One of them smashed his head in with a huge rock and when that proved to kill him, the corpse of Miss Lindberg was dealt with in the same way. The police contacted Mrs Carla Dahl, a niece of Mr Jones, whose name was in the couple's agenda: she was to have come cleaning at eight in the morning. She claimed that she'd been delayed and hadn't been at her uncle's house. Preventing the police from visiting her was a report from the mall: Mr Forbes had been killed, his body smashed to pieces by the manager of the mall, Mrs Evie Livingstone, and employee Mr Marcus Eriksson. They'd both been bitten but they claimed that though Mr Forbes had attacked them, he hadn't turned. Sergeants Owusu and Jonsson wanted to arrest Mrs Livingstone and Mr Eriksson, but the bystanders wouldn't have that and to save their lives, the sergeants left. Jonsson's report on what happened was the last one filed.

So far no zombies had "mingled" among a group of the living but on 17 July Jakob Gordon's turned body was found wandering in the park, blood stained and moaning. Jakob was the sixteen year old step-son of Mrs Dahl. A video "Tribute to Jakob Gordon from Helsing" (the block on videos was on titles and not on content as contributors had soon found out), showed the boy's corpse being stoned and people calling out things such as: "Not the head, do the knees!"

'After Mr Jones and Miss Lindberg died people came to my practise, demanding a cure they said the government had already provided to all doctors. Of course there was no cure, though at that time I still believed the White House statement that scientists would soon find one. I got threatened with a gun more than once and I handed out vitamin pills and placebos mostly, just to give them something. In the riots taking place on 17 July my car was burned and that of my visiting friend was stolen: we couldn't leave. On 18 July it seemed that most villagers had locked themselves in their houses or had sought refuge in the church.' (interview with Ramona Jung CB, 2010-3)

'When I came in search of Sissy, houses had been locked down,' says Randall Drottning. 'Cars were damaged. There were bodies in front of the church and on the road as well. Some still moved, others were clearly dead. Blood and bowels everywhere. Birds picking at corpses. It was like being in a Tarantino film you know? Except there was no one talking. I found Sis and the other women and I couldn't utter a word.' (interview CB, 2011-2)

(From The history of Drottningville, by Cynthia Böhr, first edition July 2030 CE)

Chapter 1

'The Torsvik shield shows all is clear,' Sheldon told Penny and Wyatt as they made it to the kitchen to have breakfast.

Things had been clear for many months now and Penny chided herself for coming to expect it. On entering the kitchen she found that Raj and Lydia were already present. Lydia was slicing a loaf of bread and after greeting Penny and Sheldon she continued what she was doing. Raj tucked away something he'd been working on.

'What are you making there Raj?' Penny asked.

'It is supposed to be a bunny for Leonard's baby,' Raj said, shyly holding the would-be-cuddle up.

'That's so sweet!'

'I applaud how far you've gotten with it since Leonard's revelation and I think it's fortunate that you have half a year to improve your cuddle making skills,' Sheldon said as Howard walked in. 'Has it occurred to y'all that with Livia being even smaller than her sister and Leonard adding his genes, the child will very likely be dwarf-size? I hope it's a boy so they can name him Tyrion.'

'A small man with the mind of a king,' Penny said while she sat down.

Sheldon nodded approvingly at Penny's remark. 'And his wife lives here already.'

No one felt the need to talk while they ate, but afterwards, as Lydia collected the egg-shells, Sheldon mused that it was sad that they'd never get to know how the song of ice and fire would end.

'I hope that other fans rescued GRRM and protect him on condition that he keeps writing.'

Howard cleared his throat. 'This is a nice segue to our wall,' he said. He looked from Wyatt, who was drinking his tea, to Penny. 'Considering we'll start this week and taking into account fifty days during which we won't be able to work due to weather conditions, it can be done before May next year.'

This led to excited chatting, with Raj being the most enthusiastic in picturing their future settlement.

'Oh, before I forget,' Penny said. 'Last evening two couples informed me that they are to wed.'

'Who?' Raj eagerly asked.

'Daniel and Melody as well as Rebecca and Neill. Could you prepare the ceremonies Sheldon? They'll marry on the first day of the fair.'

'That is so nice!'

'It is practical Raj,' Sheldon countered. 'There'll be a festive dinner already. I don't see why marriage is nice by the way: so far every woman who got married got pregnant. Imagine Melody and Rebecca not making an exception and the doctor allowing them to work for only two hours a day, just like Leslie?'

Raj was about to say something but he remained silent as Sheldon continued: 'Melody is the next best thing we have to a neurobiologist.'

'But most of the time she doesn't work in the CDL anyway,' Raj countered.

'Speaking of pregnancies,' Penny said, 'Lana and Caleb will become parents at about the same time as Leonard and Livia.'

'How lovely?' Lydia said. She ended nearly every line she spoke in a high voice.

'Leonard and Livia can house a baby, but Lana and Caleb can't?'

Wyatt placed an arm around his lady-friend's shoulders.

'Penny figured out something already, didn't you Slugger? Want me to inform Caroline about the wall?'

'She'll appreciate that dad.'

OoOoO

Penny brought a loaded basket containing bed linen to the laundry room. She congratulated Denise, who had laundry shift, on the upcoming marriages of her son and her late sister-wife's daughter.

'I'm very glad to welcome them into the family,' Denise said. She blushed a bit and with a self-conscious smile added: 'Melody is a catholic and Neill is a heathen: five years ago I wouldn't have been this pleased.'

Penny grinned and Denise continued loading one of the industrial washing machines. Penny greeted her but was stopped from leaving by a question: 'Penny, with Rebecca's room being free soon, do you think that Sharon might move to her room so Marion, or I, can sleep in Sharon's room?'

Penny had planned for the doctor to occupy Rebecca's room, thinking that she would appreciate the company in house five, but she still saw that a woman sharing a room with two little boys wouldn't work forever.

'I'll think about it.'

Penny thought things over as she walked to the medical practice. On its door hung a piece of paper with the week schedules of both Ramona and Alonso, the dentist. Ramona was sitting in the waiting room, studying a thick book. She seemed to be both pleased with having a patient, as well as anxious that someone had gotten sick.

'Don't worry, I'm here for a social talk,' Penny said. 'No one's been to see you yet?'

'No. I don't expect anyone either.'

'Lana and Livia told me about their pregnancies,' Penny said.

'Both mothers are perfectly healthy.'

'And I know that they're in good hands. What I came to talk to you about is connected to Lana's pregnancy. For the first months after its birth her child can stay in her room -'

'And add more noise,' Ramona burst out while barely raising her voice. 'I'm sorry, but Lana and Caleb are so loud. At night. During the day. It drives me nuts.'

Ramona turned red and glanced at the door to see if it was closed. Penny told herself once again that she ought to spend more time thinking of the needs of the silent, unobtrusive people.

'Of course I'm happy for them,' Ramona said. 'They've looked forward to having a baby for some time.'

'Lana looked radiant when she told me,' Penny said. 'Now if you would give up your room for the baby, I have a quiet room on offer for you.' Checking her watch she added: 'Could you come with me for ten minutes or so?'

Ramona looked puzzled but she nodded and accompanied Penny to the farmhouse. Having arrived on the third floor they greeted Livia who was awaiting her pupils. They were chatting a bit when rapid footsteps announced the two Close boys, followed by Sansa Irving. As soon as the children saw the adults, they stopped in their tracks and politely greeted them before disappearing into the community room for classes, followed by their teacher. Penny and Ramona walked up the stairs to the attic. The attic used to be one huge space, smelling after owl droppings, with the only light falling in coming from cracks between tiles. Even after four years Penny was sometimes amazed to find it the way it was.

'We have a spare room on the first floor, but it's a room that can house two. Of course Caroline lives in a similar room and my friends –'

'I don't care for the size. I just long to live quietly.'

This surprised Penny coming from Ramona but she knew from experience what it was like to be too close to other people. As Ramona went from room to room Penny fixed her shoe-lace and thought of how surprised the winners of the Games would be to receive a real custom made medal.

A relaxed smile graced Ramona's features after she'd chosen the middle room closest to the stairs.

'I'm sorry I didn't notice that you weren't happy in house six,' Penny said.

'What? No! My friends live there. And Lana is rather nice. And Caleb, well…'

'Noisy guy, friendly enough in his unpolished way?' Penny suggested.

Ramona snorted with repressed laughter but she quickly became serious again.

'Please don't tell them what I said.'

'What's so wrong about what you said? But don't worry, my lips are sealed.'

Ramona smiled and looked at her future room. 'So I can live here after the baby arrives?' she tentatively asked. There was hope in her voice that she might move in sooner.

'I'll announce the changes during this evening's meeting. I'll work something out.'

OoOoO

Community meeting in meeting room (farmhouse), Monday 13 October 2014 CE

Chair: Penny Drottning

Minutes: dr Sheldon Lee Cooper

Present: all off and above fifteen years of age safe for Howard (childcare), Randall, Sharon, Sarah C, Leo, Tom, Missy (guarding), and Raj (monitoring)

P: Welcome everyone, especially Duane, who joins us for the first time! I will start by sharing – in case you hadn't heard yet – that there are going to be two babies born in half a year's time. [chatter] Livia and Leonard will become parents [cheers] and so will Lana and Caleb! [cheers, applause] Congratulations! [more applause]

As you know approximately two weeks from now we will host a fair with guests from the Stein farm. I'm looking forward to it, especially since we'll also celebrate two marriages! [chatter] I'm happy to announce that Melody will marry Daniel [cheers, applause] and that Rebecca will marry Neill. Congratulations to you happy couples! [cheers and applause continue]

Now, you will understand that all this causes a shifting in the housing. Daniel will move to Melody's room in house six and Rebecca will move to Neill's RV. I asked Ramona if she'd be willing to move out so her room can house Lana and Caleb's child. Ramona kindly agreed. [exclamation from Lana, who hugs Ramona. Caleb hits the doctor's shoulder] After the Fair Ramona will move into a room on the attic in the main house. Of course Lana's baby isn't due yet, but the kitchen block of house six is small enough as it is, and with Daniel moving in there, it's convenient to have Ramona move out already. And with a spare room in house five, there can be a bit of re-shuffling if its occupants feel for it.

I hope that in the future more people will marry and become parents. We might also receive other additions to our community, apart from the people from Greeneville who are on their way to stay. All this will in time cause a housing issue. We'll have to build houses in the future, and more importantly, we'll need space for that. After all, in time of need we need the walled land to grow food to feed us all. The more houses, the less food. Therefore, after the preparations we've made in previous years, this winter we will expand the wall. [excited talking] If I may please! [people shut up] Thank you. We will close in the Nielsen property, which, once the wall is finished, will be the home of Caroline, Sarah and Alex. [people mumbling among each other] If by the time the wall is done Sarah is still dating Raj –

SN: Of course I will be! [laughter]

P: – he will move in there also. The free rooms in the house will serve as temporary emergency shelters. The rest of the walled Nielsen property will be used for housing.

LeW: Perhaps a play-ground can be made there? [approving sounds]

P: That's a good idea!

GC: And a basketball field or so? [approving sounds]

P: You and your sports Gareth! [laughter]

P: Digging a trench and building a wall will take a lot of resources, for we want this done as soon as possible. We'll start tomorrow. I'll pass you the new schedule Sheldon made. Please have a look at it and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

OoOoO

'How are the minutes getting along Sheldon?'

'I'm at the first silly schedule related question Raj.'

'What was it about?'

'"Will you blow up the referend's barn for building materials?"'

'It will fall apart any day now or so Howard told me, so we won't have to waste resources on that. Let alone fight zombies who'll come to investigate.'

'Zombies do no such thing.'

Raj sighed and rephrased: 'Zombies who will be attracted by the noise of the collapse.'

Sheldon nodded.

'Missy asked me to remind you not to be late for dinner at her place.'

Sheldon checked his watch.

'Leave the rest of the minutes for tomorrow, that will still only be two days after the meeting. Say, why doesn't Rebecca make them?'

'She claims she can't read shorthand. I have long suspected that her heart isn't into administrative tasks.'

'She's good at repairing clothes. And she likes to interact with children,' Raj said while ticking against a terrarium.

'I fear that in her wedding night she'll get pregnant.'

'Ha dude: she already is.'

'What? With Gareth for a father? And how would you know?'

'It's the glow. I'm good at reading it.'

'The glow?'

'Missy's skin was different when she was newly pregnant with Mary-Elizabeth. So was Leslie's when she was carrying Niels and again when carrying Baby W. I knew about Livia and Lana over two months ago already.'

Seeing Sheldon frown Raj added: 'I'm a human predictor stick and I would make a bet about it if you had any comics to lose. Now remember: it's up to Rebecca and Neill to announce the pregnancy.'

'All right, all right. And I wouldn't be surprised if you were wrong.'

Raj shrugged away Sheldon's disbelief. He turned to leave, changed his mind and said: 'At times I wonder how they are doing.'

Sheldon frowned.

'The guys from the comic book store,' Raj explained. 'Stuart. Captain Sweatpants. Don't you feel guilty? For not having told them?'

Sheldon sighed. 'What would have happened if we had informed them? Let me repeat. One: they would have laughed at us, thinking we were insane. Two: they would have laughed at us and when the virus broke lose, they would have remembered what we said and come to steal our stuff. Three: they would have believed us and demanded we take them with us. Captain Sweatpants would have ended up doing something stupid to alert zombies and he'd be eaten. Stuart would have done the same, but with him being skinny he wouldn't have lured the zombies long enough to allow us to escape.'

'They could have made it.'

'Possibly. But not very likely. Since you feel bothered by this, just think that there's a multiverse where they live on this very farm.'

Raj nodded and smiled a bit. 'I will. Thank you Sheldon.'

Raj left. Sheldon shook his head. 'And in that same multiverse, we'd be names on the wall.'

 

        

Chapter Text

On his way to his sister's house Sheldon found Caroline in front of a dinner schedule.

'Oh Sheldon: I forgot my glasses and I was just about to get them. I think you've scheduled me to eat here, at the house?'

'Your idea is correct.'

'And you don't even have to check the schedule. Do you remember… oh of course you do, with that amazing memory of yours. Missy doesn't have that, does she? Even if she's your twin. I always meant to ask, but is that because she's a woman? I mean, if she were a boy like you or if you were a girl like her, would you both have had that memory?'

'Our sex is irrelevant.'

They'd walked to the stairs and Sheldon offered Caroline his arm.

'Aren't you a gentleman. But I won't need that dear. When I'm old, I'll gladly accept it.'

With a giggle Caroline started descending. 'You and your twin complete each other, wouldn't you say so?'

Sheldon didn't know how to reply but experience had taught him that Mrs N would simply continue talking.

'You are good with things and she is with people.'

Having arrived on the landing Caroline turned to face her companion. 'Some people appeal to you and others don't so much, at first, but then when you get to know them, they nearly always turn out to be quite wonderful. Will you be eating out this evening Sheldon?'

'Yes. I'll be at my sister's.'

'I suppose with you making the schedule you only dine with certain people. Am I right?'

Sheldon nodded. His fellow guest tonight was Tom Cable, an army corporal from the UK. The man was taciturn and a capable warrior, things Sheldon valued. He wasn't too happy about the man's nickname though: "the black Alan Rickman".

Caroline, rather than saying that it was nice to meet people outside one's comfort zone, smiled at Sheldon. 'You will schedule yourself to have dinner at our house, won't you? Raj will live there too you know.'

'I know and yes, I'll come and visit you.'

'Lovely.'

OoOoO

During dinner Missy's stepson Michael asked whether the people from Greeneville would live in the Nielsen part, immediately followed by the question: 'Are they nice uncle Sheldon?'

Sheldon put down his fork. He had learned not to object when the boy called him uncle.

'They are expected to arrive within a fortnight and obviously the new wall will not be finished by then. Your aunt thinks that they are good people. So do Howard, naturally, Raj and Leonard.'

'You disagree?' Missy's husband John asked.

'I didn't say that. Daryl is quiet. And he's a tough man and could be a valuable addition to our community. Dale is not very fond of trains, but he knows a bit about cars. I'm not sure whether he'll survive the journey at his age: he is the weakest link and is likely to fall victim in case there -'

'Stop it brother,' Missy interrupted.

Michael sniggered.

'What can you tell us about the other three?' John asked.

With a look at Missy Sheldon placed his index finger against his lips.

After dinner Tom, John and Michael went outside for a game of shot put. Sheldon sat with Missy who held her daughter. It had disappointed Sheldon somewhat that the girl seemed to be an ordinary child, but her smile and the fact that to her he was "Unc!" moved him still.

'I'm glad we'll expand the wall,' Missy said as she stopped her daughter from pulling her hair. 'It would be nice to have more houses: it will prevent people from fighting over space.'

Sheldon opened his mouth to object.

'Not space the final frontier Shelly, but living space. It is that people like Raj and the Nielsens or they might have objected to only four people occupying that house.'

'You sound like Penny. She fears that housing issues might cause trouble.'

'Tobble, tobble!' Mary-Elizabeth merrily cried out.

OoOoO

For the evening meal Penny had to go to house six. First she went by house two, also known as the workmen's house, to pick up Leslie. She arrived there early so she could have a chat and hold her nephew Niels.

'How do you feel?' Penny asked her sister-in-law.

Leslie shrugged. 'Like a cow.'

Randall and Leonard were busy in the kitchen. Niels, who'd been playing with one of his father's old cuddles, crawled over to his aunt and made it clear that he wanted to sit on her lap.

'Who are coming over here?' Penny asked as her nephew settled himself against her upper body.

'Sharon and Duane.'

Penny inquired after Leslie's day and Leslie said that she missed being able to work.

'You're still a fletcher love,' Randall objected.

'For two hours a day and then I'm tired. Besides, I miss the CDL and holding a bow and even making cupboards and stuff.'

'Doctor's orders love,' Randall said.

There was a knock on the door.

'I'll get it!' Livia, who was descending the stairs, called out.

Sharon was the first guest to arrive. While ushering her in, Livia asked her how she felt about her brother and sister getting married and moving away.

'I'm glad we'll still have Leo live with us. Hi everyone! Daniel sometimes thinks that Leo was placed in our house just to keep us obeying the religion rule, but that's nonsense right?'

Penny was about to reveal that Gareth had asked for Leo to stay at his place thinking it would be nice for his daughters, but Sharon chatted along. 'It would be such a hen house if Leo wasn't around. I'm sorry Daniel and Rebecca can't have a honeymoon. Not like in the old days of course, but Daniel will barely have any privacy. Like when you two got married Leslie and Randall spend some nights at the main house right?'

Livia nodded.

'And it was very much appreciated,' Leonard said.

Penny made a mental note to have Neill's small RV moved a bit away from the other houses for the wedding night. And perhaps Melody and Daniel might spend their special night on the attic? They were both slim and would fit in a single bed. No silly, Penny reminded herself: the other attic rooms will be occupied by the Stein party.

'Are you going do some shuffling in house five, after the marriages?' Leonard wanted to know.

Sharon's green eyes twinkled. 'Absolutely! I'll move to Rebecca's room so I won't hear John anymore when he's got a nightmare. Although frankly those don't happen often anymore. I guess that's why Marion feels it's all right to move into another room. And there's my father and her or Denise, well, you know. My room is next to the "master".'

Sharon spoke in the same rapid way in which she could launch arrows. It didn't prevent Niels from falling asleep and Penny put him on the sofa. When Duane arrived, proud to be invited for the novelty of being a "young adult" had not yet worn off, Penny and Leslie left.

OoOoO

With Lana having dinner in house five and Caleb and Ramona being invited to the farm house there were only four women and a girl present in house six.

'Tastes good,' Leslie commented the dinner salad.

'I helped aunt Melody!' Leila revealed.

'Did you now? I'm impressed!' Leslie told the girl.

'I heard Lana say that she might use Ramona's room for a living room until the baby arrives,' Keisha casually said.

'That will give you some privacy in this block,' Penny replied with a wink.

Leslie sniggered and the sisters looked well pleased. Melody asked Penny how the scavenging had gone.

'We're not done yet but we harvested bamboo and we found a remote building site that had barely been plundered.'

It had been one of many useful addresses Sheldon had memorized but Penny didn't mention that.

'Did you drop by the Wise settlement?' Leslie asked.

'Only checked their message box.'

'Kid showing colour yet?'

'No mention of that.'

'If the boy's white that would make Dan the father right?' Keisha said. 'It's like a soap!'

'What if that daft girl and her child are kicked out by Margaret?' Leslie asked.

'We'll see,' Penny said. She hoped that Mrs Wise would simply kick her husband in the groin and allow Heidi and her baby to stay.

'Will they come to the fair?'

'I hope so. You were working on the temporary fence, weren't you Keisha? How did it go?'

'At first it was a bit spooky: I hadn't been out in some time. But it went smoothly really. We're a bit ahead on schedule: the digging already started.'

'Looking forward to your wedding Melody?' Leslie asked.

'Uhuh. Say maybe one day we can include the Torsvik farm too,' Melody said.

'Who knows,' Penny said.

'Then we'll have an impressive wall. We'd need a lot of guards then,' Keisha pointed out.

'I can guard,' Leila said. She took her fork and pointed it at an imaginary threat. 'Go away zombie!'

The women laughed.

'I'm sure you'll be a good at it Leila, just like your uncle Daniel,' Penny said, expecting Melody to be pleased by the compliment.

'Leila can't wait to go to school, can you sweetheart?' Melody asked her niece.

The girl nodded which made her dreadlocks bounce about.

'Speaking of school: I heard there will be some trainees here during the fair?' Keisha said.

'A midwife-in-training among them,' Leslie replied. 'Ramona asked if she could "assist" me. As if my room is a theatre huh? Well, anything for science. Let's hope she'll be here before my water breaks.'

'Water can't break,' Leila pointed out in between bites. Her aunt ruffled her hair.

'If their journey goes well, they'll arrive in about a week,' Penny said.

Addressing her belly Leslie said: 'Mummy really wants to go to the fair. Remember that!'

Looking up at the smiling women she continued: 'I hope the trainee doesn't expect me to be at my best behaviour.'

Melody started telling her guests how her sister had acted during labour, but Keisha stopped her with a meaningful glance at her daughter.

'Sometimes,' Leslie said, as she and Penny slowly made their way to house two later that evening, 'I think the world is perfectly normal. Brides getting cold feet and all.'

Penny was too focussed on Leslie's hands resting on her belly to discuss Melody's behaviour.

'What are you hoping for? Boy or girl?'

'Girl. We've got a name in mind. Randall asked me to ask you whether you like it.'

'Marie after Marie Curie?'

'Susannah,' Leslie said. Glancing at Penny's face she concluded: 'I take it you approve?'

Penny, still smiling, nodded.

'And a boy?'

'We're fighting over a boy's name.'

Penny grinned. In the old world she'd met Leslie when the latter had received zombie training. She'd felt dumb when comparing herself to Leonard's sharp tongued girl-friend, and when a month after her own arrival at the farm Leslie and Livia showed up, she'd not expected to become friends with Leslie. She'd respected her for her survival skills and for the fact that she'd protected her sister, who'd needed three days in safety before she'd started talking again. It didn't take long however before Penny had grown to like Leslie and when Randall starting courting the fierce scientist, Penny had thought he'd made the best choice in his life. It pained her that her mother wasn't there to witness it. If only she and the guys had arrived sooner: they could have warned people that the dead turn even when they're not bitten.

After escorting Leslie to house two, Penny visited the remembrance wall, dark though it was. It held names of people she'd never met, six crewmembers of the ISS among them, but two names she knew too well. Penny had accepted and grown to like Lydia and especially Missy, who was a wonderful stepmother to Michael. At times though, and this evening was such a time, the fact that people who'd lost their love fell in love again saddened her.

Chapter Text

Hi guys!

Maggie and I hope with all our hearts that this letter will reach its destination. We can’t thank you enough for having walls to protect those we love and for the other things you’ve initiated. We dream of one day visiting your Fair & Games but for now the thought that something like that will be held, is enough to make us smile.

Love, Maggie and Glenn

PS The picture below is a “lucky ducky” made by Eve.

 

Penny, Howard, Raj, Leonard, Sheldon,

Sending you a letter rather than talking over the radio is special. The fact that the letters are carried by dear friends whom we might never see again is bitter-sweet. Together we built Greeneville to what it is today: a thriving community, now housing 27 (soon 22) people. We won’t forget your help in making it so. None of us knows what the future will bring, but let’s pray it brings peace and prosperity for both our settlements.

Warm regards, Rick, Lori and Hope Grimes

(Letters written by Glenn Rhee and Rick Grimes, Greeneville, August 2014. The letters are shown in appendix 2 of The history of Drottningville, by Cynthia Böhr, first edition July 2030 CE)

OoOoO

When Dale slowed the van, Daryl, who was cleaning arrows in the passenger seat, was immediately on the alert. He looked behind him to see that the other three were still asleep. They’d had a rough day behind them and if possible Daryl preferred not to wake them.

Dale pointed out what he’d seen. Daryl got out and battled the wind to sneak up to a car that was covered with zombies. He launched an arrow and two zombies dropped dead.

‘What the hell?’ Daryl muttered to himself. He hadn’t heard or seen anyone approach but he reasoned that the second zombie killer wouldn’t hurt him. Yet. He fired another arrow and hit bull’s eye.

From behind a tree a young man emerged. He held a knife in his hand, threw it and hit a zombie in the back. Most zombies stumbled toward their un-canned attackers. The door of what proved to be a battered Toyota opened and a young woman got out who smashed a zombie’s head with what seemed to be a table leg. The knife-thrower ran out of knifes when half of the zombies were still walking, but he was handed a thick branch by a girl who’d appeared from behind a bush and who then climbed into a tree. The young adults did their share as did Daryl. He killed the last zombie standing.

‘’S all right?’ Daryl inquired when he stepped forward to collect his arrows.

‘Yes. Thank you,’ the knife thrower softly said. ‘I’m Eric.’

‘Daryl.’

‘Nikki,’ the woman said.

The girl had gotten out of the tree the moment the last zombie was shot. ‘I’m Lindsay,’ she introduced herself. ‘Eric and I needed to pee. When we got back those creeps wanted a ride.’

Daryl made a throatily sound.

OoOoO

There was official business taking place in the kitchen: Sheldon, in his function as notary, made Lydia select two names from a bowl.

‘Bonnie, as entered by Steven Close,’ Lydia read aloud after unfolding the first piece of paper. Sheldon asked Caroline to confirm this. The elderly lady smiled and did as she was bid.

‘May I read the second one now?’

‘Please do Lydia.’

‘Oggy, as suggested by Mary-Elizabeth Cooper and entered by her mother Missy.’

‘Yeah!’ Michael cried out for his half-sister’s sake.

‘Such nice names!’ Caroline said as she checked the second slip.

‘I would have preferred Zeus and Apollo, but there we are,’ Sheldon commented. ‘Lydia, Caroline, thank you for your cooperation. I will ask Astrid to pass the names to her aunt.’

‘Is Astrid here?’

‘No, but she will be on Friday.’

‘I hope,’ Michael said, holding up a glass jar he’d cleaned to see if he’d missed a spot, ‘that aunt Penny finds some dog leaches in someone’s house today.’

‘She will not make that her priority I’m sure. Goodbye.’

After the door fell close behind Sheldon, Michael mumbled something about understanding that there were other things to scavenge for. Lydia winked at him and asked Caroline how she felt about moving back to her house. Caroline said that she and her dear James had been happy in their house and that it thrilled her that it would make a home for her grandchildren too.

Michael shared that he’d been invited by Alex to spend a few nights at the Nielsen house once the new wall was done.

‘How nice! Will you have a pyjama party then?’

‘Ow! That’s for girls Mrs N!’

OoOoO

Howard and Neill carried a portable workbench from a shed to the jeep and placed it next to a mountain bike and some rope. They were at the last property in their search area and bound to return home. Their trunk was half-empty, but it had been a good trip: they’d gained various tools.

Once in the car Tom suggested to drive a little further. Penny agreed, knowing the Briton would have a reason. Tom only took them for a small ride.

‘We’ve been there,’ Neill said, indicating a huge windowless hall at some 250 yards off the road. It had been used as a distribution centre in the nineties, after which it had become a ‘green’ indoor game hall. Most of the guards’ protective gear had once been used by paint ball players and most of the solar panels on the houses surrounding the farmhouse had been taken off the hall’s roof.

‘I saw movement. Zombies most likely, ’ Tom replied.

When they had a good view they saw two RVs parked nose to nose just inside the roofed area of the parking lot. The parking’s fence had been locked and the abandoned cars that had been standing criss-cross at their last visit had been moved to the backs of the RVs.

‘About twenty zombies. Several new bodies too,’ Howard reported as he watched the hall through his binoculars. ‘The RVs and the cars might be blocking more.’

Penny gave it a thought. Those who’d locked themselves in might not have the means to get out because of a lack of weapons. They might have supplies to last them for a while. They might have done some scavenging themselves and have stuff to trade. They could be robbers on a break or all they had to offer could be hopelessness or death.

‘There’s a yellow ball rolling from underneath one of the RVs,’ Howard reported.

‘Let’s have a look,’ Penny decided.

OoOoO

Raj and Caleb were in the former garage discussing an issue at hand on the construction site. After Raj had offered a solution, Caleb shook his head.

‘I can’t believe that you guys just know these things. And you’re a star-man at that.’

Raj laughed. ‘Really dude, “star-man” only pisses of Sheldon.’

Caleb grinned.

‘Looking forward to being a dad?’

‘Oh man yeah. Never thought it would happen after the zombies got out of the closet. How ‘bout you and Sarah?’

‘We hope to have children one day. But our relationship hasn’t taken that step yet and besides: she’s only seventeen.’

‘A young adult by our rules. And an adult in the way she acts.’

‘I know. But too young to be a mother.’

‘Well yeah. And you might want to live in the Nielsen house before you start a family. That’s what I’d do. I’m really glad Penny arranged for Ramona to move.’

‘With the block you live in only having one entrance you can make sure your child won’t sneak out.’

Caleb laughed. ‘It will take years before that happens. Will you have an apprentice during the fair?’

‘No. But Livia will have one and Ramona and Howard as well.’

‘When I first got here, I thought you were nerds, still do really, but I’m glad for it now. Should baby Suriano be smart you guys can teach him or her anything.’

‘The child will have Lana’s name? Cool.’

‘Yeah well. With Mary-Elizabeth and Niels having their mothers’ names, Lana got enthusiastic for the idea. And as she pointed out: she has to push the little brat out. Now, I’ll go back, leave you to your work. See you Raj.’

OoOoO

‘Knock knock.’

Without looking up Raj said: ‘Forgotten something Caleb?’

‘I haven’t,’ Leonard said. ‘I came to bring you these bolts I made.’

‘Great!’

Raj cleaned his hands on an old cloth to pick up the tiny bolts his friends had put on the table. He expected Leonard to leave again, but it turned out he was a chat magnet today.

‘About what Sharon said about what Daniel said about Leo…’

‘Uhm? Oh yeah, that.’

‘Does it worry you?’

‘Uhm…’

‘What if Sheldon’s mum would have made it. Would we have the rule too?’

‘Yes: why should we change a rule because one person might not like it? Mrs Cooper would have said “Holy Mary” or “Sweet Jesus” as often as she could, but she’d be religious in private only.’

‘You seem sure of that.’

‘Everyone adapted to Yule.’

‘Harry Potter might have helped there.’

‘True. But still. You think Daniel now feels uncomfortable with our attitude toward religion?’

‘Don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. Do you agree Raj that if our mothers would be here, things would be different?’

Raj attached yet another bolt to the little windmill he was making.

‘My mother - . I hope my siblings and parents are alive and well. Priya wouldn’t let them get hurt. But – ‘

Raj eyed the door. Seeing no one was near, he softly continued: ‘In a way I’m glad they are not here. It’s sick, I know that, but my parents are so dominating, my mother especially. I can only picture pre-apocalypse me dealing with her and I don’t know whether I’d come out triumphant now. You know?’

‘Yeah! My mother - You’ve met her. I need not explain. I got reduced to an immature kid whenever she was around. Even… Even if she were to turn up now, I – ‘

‘Don’t you finish that line Leonard Leakey Hofstadter! You’re a married man. You’ll be a father in half a year. You survived an apocalypse. You helped turn this community into a beacon of civilization. You will be able to handle a cold-hearted she-devil.’

Leonard failed horribly at trying not to look pleased. ‘Think so?’

‘Absolutely.’

Feeling that his friend could do with a compliment himself Leonard said: ‘You’re right! After all what we went through, being independent grown-ups toward our mothers will be a piece of cake. You will proudly introduce Sarah to your mum and make her accept your non-Indian girlfriend!’

For a minute or so the scientists worked on the wind mill in perfect harmony.

‘You know?’ Raj said. ‘I should have liked to see Leslie respond to your mother.’

Leonard laughed so loud it made his sides hurt.

Chapter Text

Penny, Tom, Howard and Neill worked like a well-oiled machine. After the last zombie at the fence had dropped to the ground Penny and Neill made sure they were all dead and the two of them retrieved the arrows. They found some of the zombies covered in poop.

‘Curtain moving in blue RV,’ Tom softly said.

Penny had a look and noticed a hand holding a gun. It wasn’t pointed at them but the message was clear. Penny raised a hand by way of a greeting. The gun disappeared and the passenger’s door opened. A man stepped out and walked toward them, still holding his weapon.

‘Hello. My name is Penny. Do you need help?’ Penny asked when the man, who seemed to be about seventy years old, stood still at a little distance from the fence.

‘I’m Bill Terfel. My family’s there and I will defend them,’ the man stated.

‘Good,’ Penny replied. ’Family is worth protecting.’

The man’s expression softened at that.

‘Why did you kill these biters Penny?’

‘To see if you need help and possibly to trade. We’ve got goods with us.’

Bill lowered his gun. A woman stepped out of the blue RV. Bill, unaware of that, softly admitted that he could use food.

‘We thought we heard moaning coming from inside the hall. We didn’t dare to enter it in search for leftovers.’

‘We’ve been here before and we entered the office and storage room. It should be safe there but some zombies from the hall might have made it there by now.’

Bill nodded. ‘What did you bring Penny?’

‘Apples, carrots, canned vegetables. Let’s see… some canned fruit, dried meat, nuts, goat cheese.’

‘You’ve got all that?’ the woman from the RV, who’d now joined them, asked. Bill didn’t seem pleased by her arrival but he made introductions still. The woman, who was in her sixties and skinny, was called Nigella and she was Bill’s wife. She intently looked at Penny, who got the impression she was in a fortune teller’s tent, but maybe that had more to do with Nigella’s long skirt and her bracelets than with the woman’s stare.

‘Do you live nearby Penny?’ Nigella asked.

‘We live in a former police-station a while from here,’ Penny pleasantly said. Behind her she heard a thud, like that of a zombie dropping to the ground.

‘A police-station? Were you a policewoman?’

Penny grinned. ‘Waitress. Unlike the diner the police-station was made to be defendable against an angry mob.’

Nigella softly laughed and Bill looked pleasantly surprised by that. ‘Penny suggested trade,’ he told his wife. He asked Penny what she was looking for.

‘We’ll consider anything you have, especially building tools. Have you lived here for a long time?’

‘About four days,’ Bill replied.

‘You needed to flee for something?’

‘We met people… who attacked us.’

Nigella looked at the ground. Seeing that Penny noticed that, Bill quickly added: ‘We’d like to trade.’

‘Why don’t you come in honey?’ Nigella suggested.

Bill seemed worried concerning his wife’s invitation and that settled it for Penny.

‘All clear?’ she asked her men.

‘Confirmed,’ Tom replied.

OoOoO

Raj was busy in a corner of the garage when he heard voices near. Caleb entered with Gareth. It was obvious to Raj that they weren’t aware of his presence and he didn’t mind not being interrupted for a change.

‘If you carry those shovels, I’ll take these spades,’ Caleb said. ‘We also need more knee-protectors. I’ll get them.’

‘You weren’t in a real community before, were you?’ Gareth asked.

‘Meaning?’

‘In between the collapse of our old world and coming here. A community with leaders and rules.’

‘I suppose I wasn’t.’

A drawer was closed. ‘I thought they were in there,’ Caleb said.

‘I was. We lived in an AUB community for some time.’

‘Why don’t you check that drawer?’ Caleb asked, followed by the question: ‘Liked it there?’

‘Yes I did. I had three wives and most of my children had survived: I was a man of some consequence. One of the councilmembers in fact.’

‘Nice. Damn, where are they? Found anything? Maybe in that box at the entrance?’

Raj heard footsteps and some noise as if someone was going through a pile of equipment.

‘I have the capacity for that. You could be a councilmember too. I wanted to ask you Caleb: What do you make of the reward system?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Everyone works for 48 hours a week and every adult gets “paid” the same.’

Raj, who’d continued to work, now needed to search a can for a specific part, but he refrained from doing so.

‘I like it. Makes me feel valued.’

‘Common! Valued? You’re an expert in your field. The only construction worker we’ve got. You labour on the Nielsen site and yet you get the same amount of points as say Maud who doesn’t have half your strength.’

‘So?’

‘In the old world you would have made more money than Maud.’

‘I would have made less than Maud the dentist’s assistant. And I would have made far less than an engineer like Howard, plus I didn’t get to be in charge on the site.’

‘You’re not in charge. Howard is.’

‘When it comes to planning and making decisions: yes. But he leaves the day-to-day things to me.’

‘And why shouldn’t you be rewarded for that?’

Caleb’s voice came from another spot. ‘I am: Howard leaves the day-to-day things to me. Found them!’

‘What if the new people are lazy?’

‘And they read romantic novels on the toilet while they should be helping in the vertical garden?’ Caleb said teasingly.

Raj smirked, knowing whom Caleb referred to.

‘This is too heavy for me,’ Gareth complained. ‘You take some shovels too.’

Footsteps retreated.

‘Half my strength… Ass,’ Caleb mumbled.

OoOoO

Bill opened the gate a little so Penny could walk through. ‘You’re all welcome to come in.’

‘This is Neill,’ Penny started, gesturing at the only man who faced them. ‘The others are Howard and Tom.’

The last two raised a hand in greeting but didn’t look around. Neill nodded at Bill and Nigella and seemed to hold his hand-bow with a bit more emphasis.

‘I’ll join you,’ Penny said and she stepped into the parking lot. Bill nodded and closed the gate. Penny followed him and Nigella, who picked up the ball. They went through the small opening that was left between the two RVs. Behind it the parking lot was empty safe for six RVs of various sizes and two men: a bearded one in his fifties and a man of Penny’s age who was very tall and muscled. At Bill’s gesture they put away their guns. Bill whistled in a particular way which led to people coming out of their RVs. Two young boys flew toward Nigella, who told Penny that they were her grandchildren Will and Paul. They observed Penny from behind their grandmother’s skirt with the taller of the boys having taken possession of the ball.

Nine others emerged, guarded and silent. A petite blonde woman looked at Penny wide-eyed.

‘No Nigella, not you!’

‘No!’ Nigella said and she walked toward the woman, put her hands on her shoulders and softly talked to her. Penny was anxious to overhear the conversation, but Bill introduced her to his people so she had to pay attention to that.

‘Penny lives in a former police-station,’ Bill then said. ‘She’d like to trade with us.’

‘A police-station huh?’ the bearded man, Moses, said. ‘In a town?’

‘In a village, two buildings away from where I grew up. There’s plenty of space to grow food,’ Penny said. ‘We’ve got food and some other goods with us to trade. We could use building tools and specialized tools but whatever you have to offer, we’ll consider.’

‘Go through your belongings and whatever you wouldn’t take when we have to flee, bring it,’ Bill told his people. ‘And bring your waste-holding tanks. Mitch could you empty those again?’

The tall man nodded. Moses declared that he’d keep an eye on the entrance and he took a position at the front wheel of the blue RV. The woman who’d questioned Nigella now approached Penny, with a woman of Chinese descent in tow. She waited until the others, who all went to their RVs, were out of earshot and then asked: ‘You live somewhere safe?’

Penny nodded.

‘You accept people into your community?’

O shit, Penny thought.

‘Provided that they obey our rules, we do.’

‘I’m Martha. This is Camilla. Could you take us with you please?’ Martha said on the verge of tears. ‘Before the bastards return? We’ll bring our van if you like.’ She gestured toward a dark green RV that seemed big enough to house a family.

The moment she’d seen the RVs Penny had thought of her housing issue but Martha’s offer troubled her. She’d had her share of bullies.

‘Now hold on!’ Moses said walking toward them. He fingered a rabbit’s leg hanging from his belt. ‘That’s not yours to take.’ He positioned himself right in front of Penny. ‘Look you missy, you think you can order us around now can you?’

‘I’m not ordering you around sir,’ Penny calmly said.

‘We take care of our own.’

‘And that’s all you do!’ Martha said.

‘I never hurt you Martha.’

‘You didn’t help us either, did you?’

‘Paul did and he’s left behind my widowed sister and my fatherless niece!’

The sound of arguing had drawn the attention of Bill and Nigella, who quickly came toward them.

‘She wants an RV!’ Moses told Bill, who put down two small folding chairs. Nigella placed a set of pans on the ground as well as a filled bag.

Martha said that Penny hadn’t asked for an RV but that she would offer their van in case Penny would take Camilla and her with her.

‘And I told her that it’s not hers to take!’

‘We owe it to them,’ Nigella said.

A woman with auburn hair, Charlotte, or so Penny recalled, joined them. She placed two loaded canvas bags on the pavement. Her daughter Courtney accompanied her, holding a stuffed children’s back-pack, and rolling a waste-holding tank along. Charlotte looked from Nigella to Moses to Martha and Camilla.

‘We want to –‘ Martha started to explain.

‘Hand our van to her!’ Moses interrupted. ‘Charlotte, tell her that it’s not hers to take.’

‘I agree with Nigella Moses.’

Moses grumbled and looked pissed but he shut up. The piles of trading goods grew. They contained among others a saw, boots, porcelain statues and embroidered pillows.

‘Please Penny, take us with you,’ Martha begged.

‘They might not make it Martha,’ Charlotte tried.

‘Ill weeds,’ Martha said.

Nigella and Charlotte shared a glance.

‘You don’t know her,’ Charlotte tentatively told Martha and Camilla. ‘What if her people are worse?’

‘Worse?!’ Camilla exclaimed.

‘What sort of work do you do in your place Penny?’ a woman wearing unbecoming pants asked.

Penny nodded to show she understood the question. On leaving the farm she’d replaced her Grace Kelly bun for a merry pony tail and it danced at every head move. ‘I help out in the kitchen garden Rose. I make soap and candles and goat cheese too and I scavenge.’

‘Do you have rules?’ Rose asked.

‘We have to work for 48 hours a week for food, shelter, protection, medical aid and basic clothing.’

‘Medical aid?’ a balding man asked.

‘For crying out loud Henry, we can take care of our own!’ Moses cried out, making the others tense.

‘You can,’ Penny calmly said, ‘for you’ve made it this far in an apocalypse.’

Taken aback Moses muttered: ‘Damn right we did.’

‘What sort of medical aid do you have? A dentist?’ Bill asked.

‘Yes.’

‘You think your dentist could have a look at my wife?’ Henry said in a slightly raised voice that revealed his anxiety. ‘You said you need building tools: I offer the small roller over there. If it’s of no use to your people: I used to work in a road-crew and I’m a construction worker. I can do plumbing and roofing. I could work for you in exchange.’

‘Let me think on that while I see what we can use, is that all right?’

Will suggested his brother and Rose’s daughters to play leap-frog. Courtney, who was the eldest of the children, seemed pleased by not being asked to join them. The four children set to play and Henry left for his RV but the others kept an eye on Penny who went through their things.

Henry returned rolling his waste-holding tank with him. He was accompanied by a woman who held her hand to her cheek and was in such pain that she needed her husband’s support to walk. He left her in the care of Nigella and helped Mitch, who was carrying a spade, to bring the tanks the others had brought to the fence.

Penny wanted to question Bill but not with the others being present. She eyed Nigella, who was surprisingly understanding. ‘Let’s give Penny some privacy as she decides what she can use,’ Nigella said. She put her arm around her suffering friend’s shoulders and walked toward the hall. The rest of the group followed her.

‘It’s amazing that you were able to keep these RVs on the road for this long,’ Penny said while looking in between the two RVs at the front. Neill nodded at her and she returned the gesture.

‘We stayed in a traveller’s community for some years.’

‘Were the men Martha referred to the ones you fled for?’

Bill shook his head. ‘Pete and Hank are part of our own group. They… uhm. They help us survive, for they’re unafraid. But their methods… Martha and Camilla and Marlene too, she’s missing, might still be with Pete and Hank and the others. The three of them were settlers. Non-travellers that is. Pete and Hank took them for… well, you know. Charlotte’s husband tried to defend them, but Pete killed him for that. No one dared to help the women afterward,’ Bill said, looking ashamed. ‘I must warn you that should you accept them, Pete and Hank will come for them.’

Penny thought about the Trojan war. She had never been sure whether the willingness to sacrifice thousands of lives to save one stranger was a triumph of mankind or a sign of utter stupidity. It was decision time now. Ill weeds and all.

Chapter Text

 

Q – Are there things you regret doing regarding the ZO?

Leonard: Yeah well… Back in early June 2010 Penny suggested we’d leave by plane immediately. Howard, Raj, Sheldon and I wanted to be prepared though and we needed the lab at Caltech for that. We reasoned we’d better try things at work then ruin them at the farm. In hindsight we could have done our tests here. It would have taken longer, but we wouldn’t have been in danger during the journey. We wouldn’t have had to kill some robbers who attacked us. Not that I regret killing them. [Leonard is silent for a moment] I would have preferred it though if we’d been able to call 911 [a telephone number to alert police, ambulance and fire department, CB]. (interview CB, 2013-1)

Tom: When I could offer people help, by shooting zombies or teaching basic survival skills, I did so. Most groups I met didn’t seem capable of even making it through the year. There was so much tension everywhere. At times I wonder what would have happened had I’d settled elsewhere. I could have made a contribution to a struggling community. Survivor’s guilt is I think something we all suffer from. (interview CB, 2011-1)

Alonso: Doing things differently… I wish I had, but I would have needed a different personality for that. [Alonso coughs] Several months into the ZO Frances got bitten while scavenging. Later that day we run into a road block. Maud and the children hid themselves in the back of the truck and Frances and I faced the men who’d stopped us. They were heavily armed and demanded a tribute. I handed them some canned food, but their leader had set his eyes on something ‘more appetizing’. His words. If it wasn’t clear what he meant it became obvious from the rough language the other men used. They were about to enter the truck when Frances, pretending to be my partner, said she was tired of boring old me. She told the leader of the gang that he seemed more of a man than I. I let her go where a different man would have… I don’t know. Given her a knife a least. I didn’t think of that back then. I knew she’d die, and so did she. It feels wrong that she couldn’t die with us, in peace. But if she hadn’t sacrificed herself, the men would have entered the RV and found the children and Maud. They would have raped Maud too and killed Duane, Sansa and me. Frances saved her daughter and by doing that she saved us too. It was the best outcome for all of us but it feels wrong. (interview CB, 2010-5)

From The histories of the people of Drottningville, as recorded by Cynthia Böhr, first edition April 2025 CE

OoOoO

Sometimes important decisions need to be made in a heartbeat.

‘You’re willing to have Martha and Camilla leave in their RV?’ Penny asked Bill.

‘Yes. Provided you pay something for it.’

‘I accept that on two conditions. First us providing Henry’s wife dental aid is part of the payment for the RV.’

Bill nodded.

‘Also I want my friend Howard to approve of the RV’s condition. How far can it ride?’

‘We managed to get enough fuel before we took off. I’d say it’s good for 120 miles.’

Penny didn’t comment this piece of information. ‘Is there a way Pete and Hank won’t go after Camilla and Martha?’

‘As long as they’re alive: no. Unless perhaps they found other women to hurt.’

Penny thought of asking Bill to tell Pete and Hank that the women had died, but she changed her mind. She sighed as if she were pondering the problem and then shrugged as if she thought nothing of it. ‘We’re hard to find. Now, let’s have a look at all this. Before I forget: Do you want me to make a deal with you or per contributor?’

‘We’ll share the food…’

‘The first option then.’

Bill again warned Penny for Pete and Hank. Penny assured him that she’d shelter Martha and Camilla. As Bill provided information about the missing rapists and the reason why his group had to flee, Penny went through the goods. Though the food she’d give in exchange would benefit all she made sure to select something from each pile, even when she didn’t have a need for it or if the quality was poor. She made an offer to Bill, making sure she had some negotiation space left. It proved useful for Bill liked to get a bit more for the tools Henry had brought in. Penny tossed in three cans of fruit, a package of dried meat and some aspirins, knowing she still had nearly a quarter of her trade box to hand out. She and Bill then negotiated over the RV, which emptied her box and required more.

‘You are allowed to do this, aren’t you?’ Bill asked at the end.

‘Provided Howard approves of the RV’s condition, I can sell this back home.’

They shook hands to settle the deal and Penny walked to the fence that was opened for her by Howard. Mitch and Henry were covering the hole where they’d deposed the contents of the tanks, trusting Penny’s men to watch the surroundings. Penny informed Howard of her decisions and she was relieved that he didn’t disapprove, though she hadn’t expected him to do so: she recalled another damsel in distress that had brought out Howard’s knightly side. After Mitch and Henry had re-entered the parking lot, Penny and Howard worked out her plan. Penny informed Neill and Tom while Howard, carrying two bags of apples that were part of the trade for the selected goods, went to check the RV. He returned with a smile on his face.

‘Seeing that there’s no garage these days to maintain vehicles, it’s in fine shape.’

Penny and Howard went back into the hall carrying the rest of the available trading goods over to Bill. Henry thanked them for agreeing to help his wife Letitia. Howard took the roller to the jeep.

‘I don’t know how long it will take the dentist,’ Penny told the travellers. ‘Once he says she’s good to go, I expect that to be tomorrow, we’ll bring her back as well as the remaining goods we owe all of you.’

She then handed Martha and Camilla a list of the rules they’d have to agree to obey in order to be admitted. Barely looking at the piece of paper both women nodded their acceptance. Penny felt that they would have agreed with anything that didn’t involve being a sex slave and she started to read the first rule aloud.

‘Please,’ Camilla said, ‘Let’s leave. I’m terrified that we’ll run into them if we stay here any longer. Please!’

‘Right. Just know that disobeying the rules could get you kicked out.’

The women eagerly agreed.

‘You’re leaving? Will you come and visit?’ Paul asked Martha.

‘No pumpkin, we won’t.’

The boy nodded at that and turned to his brother: ‘Come Will, let’s play.’

‘I heard you can drive the RV Camilla? Why don’t the two of you get in?’ Penny suggested.

While Moses’s son, Penny had forgotten his name, drove one of the front RVs backwards, Bill and Moses helped Penny to bring the rest of the trade goods to the jeep. Henry followed them with Letitia. Bill expressed amazement at seeing a pigeon in a basket but Henry didn’t care for the old fashioned messenger: he looked pained at having to part with his wife. Penny didn’t offer to take him along. Camilla slowly drove the RV toward the fence. Tom shot a zombie. Howard, pretending to perform a final check of the vehicle, in fact checked for stowaways. Neill shot a zombie. Howard got out and mentioned to Bill that the right front tire seemed a bit soft.

‘It didn’t prevent that RV from making it here, did it?’ a pissed Moses said.

Howard held his hands in a peaceful gesture. ‘Sure, sure.’

When they were clear to go and the fence had been opened to allow the RV through, Penny sat next to driver Howard, with Letitia occupying the back seat. Neill and Tom found themselves a spot in the trunk. They waved at those watching them leave.

OoOoO

15 Oct 2014. So I thought that it was 29 September, but today we met people who said it was 15 October. They killed the biters outside the fence and they came to trade. I didn’t have the building tools they could use, but Penny (the tradesperson, who seemed nice) accepted some of my old children’s stuff (a book) and we gained lots of food! Camilla + Martha left with Penny. I think Marlene would have joined them, but she and the others haven’t arrived yet. I’m sorry she missed this opportunity and I hope that when Penny returns with Letitia – I forgot: they have a dentist! And they brought Letitia with them for treatment! – she will find Marlene here and help her too. On the other hand, and I feel bad about that, it might be best if Marlene stays with us, for certain people have “needs” and if they make it they won’t touch Rose, for she’s related to them, which leaves mum. I hope I’m too young. I have an idea though: Bill allowed Martha + Camilla to take their RV with them and uncle Moses grumbled about that but David said that in future we have to share RVs, because we won’t be able to keep them on the road (fuel shortage). So I told him that he could then move in with mum and me, so uncle Moses won’t. I didn’t say the last part of course. I hope he’ll move straight in in case Marlene died. Better idea: mum with Mitch and Rose with David! I’ll tell mum about that.

(From Apocalypse childhood by Courtney Calton, first edition March 2040 CE)

Chapter Text

'But why can't I go and see that poor woman?' Lydia asked Penny.

'For safety reasons. She thinks she's at the parking next to the police station and I want to keep it that way. She'll spend the night in Alonso's truck. Alonso will sleep on the attic.'

Lydia looked at Wyatt for help. He shrugged.

'Was she in a lot of pain?' Lydia inquired. Penny confirmed this.

'Poor woman. And those other women too? Looking forward to live in a real community and then getting attacked by zombies?'

'Yeah,' Penny sadly said. Lydia continued to cut peppers.

'But their RV getting on fire because you guys hit the fuel tank… I mean you were defending yourselves from zombies, but it's too bad it happened?'

'Uhuh.'

'What about the tower? You expect visitors?'

'Standard procedure after encountering new people,' Penny reminded her stepmother. 'Howard, Tom and Neill are there now. I'll take Raj to house zero tomorrow to do his magic.'

'Something else,' Wyatt said. 'The stuff you're getting them is more than what we're getting in return.'

'Yes dad. With the RV gone... But I made the deal. And Randall and Caleb were delighted to see the roller and the other tools. And the bicycle will come in handy.'

Wyatt made a face. 'How are thirty-six issues of Cosmopolitan going to help us build the new wall?'

'Oh honey,' Lydia came to the rescue, 'I'm sure Penny felt sorry for those poor people? On the run and all with children and no food. And she would never jeopardize our own people, you know that?'

Moved, and feeling slightly guilty, Penny, for the first time ever, kissed Lydia's cheek.

OoOoO

Maud had spontaneously promised Letitia that she'd join her for breakfast. She then recalled the instructions Penny had provided regarding what to tell Letitia and fearing she'd accidentally share forbidden information, she'd told Penny about the breakfast arrangement. To her relief Penny had invited herself over.

Letitia looked like a different woman. Her joy in being pain-free was diminished by what had happened to Martha and Camilla, something that only now kicked in, though it didn't prevent her from eating her breakfast at a fast pace. Penny provided details about what had happened. Maud listened and expressed how sorry she was that Martha and Camilla hadn't made it.

'They weren't family but they've been with us for over a year,' Letitia said. 'It was gracious of you to take them with you Penny.'

Maud told her patient that Penny had taken her in too.

'Were you all alone?'

'I travelled with Alonso and two children who happened to be with us: Duane and Sansa. Do you have children?' Maud asked, hoping that Penny would notice that she was changing the topic.

Letitia shook her head. 'Never had unfortunately. But we have nephews and nieces with us.'

'Whom?' Penny asked.

'Nigella's grandchildren: Nigella's my Henry's sister. Mitch is their half-brother and Rose is their half-sister and she has twins: Ann and Thelma.'

'Of about eight or nine right?'

'Eleven. They're eleven.'

'Do they go to school?' Maud asked.

'School?'

'We have people teaching classes,' Penny said, casting a glance at Maud.

'Nigella is teaching Will and Paul to read and write. The girls learned that at school, all four of them.'

'I only saw three girls. Is the fourth among the missing?'

Letitia nodded and sighed. 'And her parents as well.'

Seeing Letitia glance at the left-over porridge, Penny offered it to her.

'Did you make this?' Letitia asked, looking from one woman to the other.

'Denise did. She's one of our cooks,' Maud said. 'Uh. I'll prepare the practice.'

Maud left and Letitia finished her meal. Soon enough Alonso showed up, who examined his patient and declared her good to go.

'I would like to subscribe some drugs,' he told Penny outside his practice. It was almost sunrise. 'To prevent an infection. Is that all right?'

'Go ahead.'

'Good, well, I'm glad you've brought her. It was fun to do a root-canal.'

Penny laughed and Alonso's olive skin turned red.

'You know what I mean.'

'Yeah, I know,' Penny replied supportively.

OoOoO

'Won't Penny get into trouble for losing the RV and still bringing us the goods?' a teary-eyed Nigella asked Howard.

'The boss didn't like it but Penny insisted that she'd made the deal,' Howard said. 'I'm sorry for your friends.'

Nigella bit her lower lip. Howard felt like hugging her but he kept his hands free and his eyes on Penny and Pete. While Howard had not met particularly happy people the day before, Bill's flock now acted like cowered sheep. Once in a while someone would eye the boxes they'd brought, but even Moses remained silent and the children kept close to Bill's RV. A woman Howard hadn't seen the day before was quietly sobbing and Letitia held her tight. 'Was she fond of Martha and Camilla?'

'Her husband died on the road. We buried her daughter yesterday evening.'

OoOoO

'I feel depraved for not being here yesterday morning,' Pete told Penny. His appreciative gaze made Penny look down shyly.

'I guess your beauty made Bill here forget about his negotiation skills.'

Pete slammed Bill's shoulder, which the older man bore with a strained grin.

'I'm sorry for your friends,' Penny said. 'Martha and Camilla looked forward to live with settled people and they seemed real nice.'

'They were. They were. Fortunately their companion Marlene is still with us. We'll make sure to comfort her.'

Penny looked down to hide the anger in her eyes. Howard joined them and he too said that he was sorry the two women hadn't made it.

'So am I. But life goes on and frankly I'd like to trade with you. My brother Hank and I have stuff we can part with. We'll get it so you could have a look.'

At his name being mentioned Hank, who was doing press-ups nearby, got to his feet. The brothers walked away.

'He feels I got us cheated,' Bill whispered. 'I couldn't tell him that I had a debt of honour to pay.'

Bill's grandsons approached them.

'That is a great sweater you've got Paul,' Penny told the youngest boy. The sweater was at least two sizes too big, but it was clean, unlike the shirt he'd worn the day before.

'Yeah,' Howard agreed. 'It's my favourite turtle: Donatello.'

While Howard answered Paul's question as to how he knew the turtle's name, Will demanded Penny's attention. 'Your shoelace needs fixing,' he pointed out. 'Grandma taught me how to do it. See: mine are done really well. I can also read and write very well and I can recite two poems!'

Penny praised Will and knelt down to handle her shoelace. Howard informed the boys about the three other teenage mutant hero turtles. Bill told his grandsons that their father had liked to watch the turtles on the magic box but he was interrupted by Pete and Hank approaching. Moses came to stand near them, as if he stood guard. The brothers placed their stuff on the pavement. With the air of a connoisseur Pete took a cotton bag from his pocket.

'Honey,' he said, as he let Penny glance at the contents, 'you would be the perfect display for all this.'

Penny wanted to kick him but she let her lips part and made a longing sound.

Howard coughed. 'Jewellery I take it?'

'Valuable goods,' Pete insisted.

Howard shook his head. 'Penny. The boss wasn't too happy, remember? What do you think he'll do when you bring home trinkets?'

'Howard is a spoil-sport, isn't he? I would never deny you jewellery.'

Penny smiled gratefully but said that Howard was right. 'After the RV got destroyed, I can't afford, well, this.'

Hank smirked but Pete regarded Penny with pity.

'You know what? We've got an RV that's not being used anymore. It belonged to my deceased cousin. Bill why don't you bring all this stuff to my RV,' he said without asking. Hank whistled a tune.

'But his wife is alive,' Howard said.

'She'll live with Rose. For a fair price the RV's yours. Imagine how your boss will feel about that Penny?'

Bill walked away, holding a box in his arms.

'We'll even bring it to you, so you won't be blamed in case something happens to it. You may hand us half what you owe us until after the RV is safely parked near your police-station.'

'Why that's generous of you Pete,' Moses said admiringly.

'Ain't that so?'

'The question is whether we can afford another RV,' Howard said.

'My brother and I will come up with something. Why don't you check these goods and decide what you can use. Got the prices written down here,' Pete said, handing Penny a note.

Pete and Hank walked away a bit. Penny and Howard went through the short list.

'Make a bet that they'll want a pair of household gloves, some batteries, a handful of aspirin and a pack of tea-bags for the RV?' Howard whispered so Moses wouldn't hear him.

Bill, returning for another box, handed them a note from Pete, listing the RV's price. Pete turned out to want just a little more than the guilt-driven Bill had asked for the first RV.

'The award is in the bringing,' Penny softly told Howard.

'We could say it's too expensive. But then…'

'They'll find a way to get to us anyway. Let's see what they are willing to accept.'

Followed by Moses they walked over to where Pete and Hank were waiting. Pete was talking to Rose, with his brother and Nigella listening.

'And?' Pete asked Penny, cutting off what his cousin had to say.

'I realise you're offering us a great deal,' Howard said, 'but –'

'Let the little lady do the talking. I like her voice for one.'

Penny beamed up at Pete.

'We'd like the fishing gear Pete. What you want in return for that, we've got. But as for the rest and the RV… You want canned food, we'll manage maybe a tenth of that I think, right Howard?'

Howard nodded. He would have done the same if Penny had said a quarter or a fifth.

'And as for the clothes and the bullets you want and the other stuff: we'll need to scavenge first and that will take several days at least. And we can't guarantee that in the end we've found what you want.'

'I get that. But surely you have bullets?' Pete said in a concerned voice.

'Only for emergencies like when we ran out of arrows. We used arrows to kill the zombies that attacked Martha and Camilla.'

'Short range only,' Hank said. 'But then an arrow wouldn't have ended up blowing up the fuel tank, would it? Jeez!'

Penny turned red. Howard patted her shoulder.

'What about four days?' Pete said.

'Four days?' Penny repeated. Her voice reminded her of Lydia's and she gave herself a compliment for that.

'We'll expect you back by then, early in the morning. You bring the stuff you gathered and if say you can't get the jeans, you'll think of something to replace them. I trust you.'

Penny, pretending not to see that Nigella cast her a worried glance, turned to Howard for help. 'What do you think?'

Howard thoughtfully nodded. 'I take it that when you gentlemen won't agree with our offerings, the deal is off.'

'Same when you're too late. We like to keep moving. But if you arrive in time and we accept the trade, you'll drive back home and we'll follow you with the RV.'

'How would you get back here?' Moses asked.

'We'll need someone to escort us by car.'

'I can do that!' Moses eagerly said.

'Great.'

'You're our best protectors. We'd be defenceless without you,' Nigella said in a pleading voice.

'You managed fine these past days. No worries.'

Five minutes later on they were on the road again. They travelled in silence for a while.

'I hate having to play dumb,' Penny said at last. 'Are we being followed Tom?'

'Negative.'

'That's something,' Penny muttered.

OoOoO

'Are you ready my sweet?' Henry protectively asked Letitia.

'Of course she is. Why wouldn't she be?' Hank said. 'We'll just ask her some questions.'

'Can you confirm the chick's story about what happened on the road?' Pete asked.

Letitia nodded. She had been unconscious during the trip, almost right after she'd taken a pill Penny had told her would make her sleep and forget about the pain, but she wasn't going to admit that. When she'd woken up she found herself in the waiting room of the dentist's truck and Penny had told her what had happened. The teary-eyed young woman had had zombie gore on her jacket and jeans that hadn't been there before and she smelled as if she'd been near a fire.

'It's what she told you. Tom noticed that there appeared to be something wrong with a front tire of the RV – '

'Howard mentioned that, remember?' Bill commented.

'- and they got out to help. Howard stayed with me and he told me what happened,' Letitia continued, glad to have come up with that white lie. 'There were biters coming from a ditch and Penny and the other men screamed that Martha should get back in the RV.'

Recalling the detailed story Penny had told her and Maud that morning Letitia could vividly picture what had happened. Henry put his arm around his shoulder.

'And then?' Pete urged.

'Martha got bitten in the neck and Camilla was dragged down. Penny and Tom and Neill killed the biters but it was too late.'

'If those bitches had stayed here, they'd be alive still,' Hank said. 'How did the RV explode?'

'They run out of arrows when more biters showed up. They used their guns and there was an explosion.'

Maybe you heard it: Howard told me that you startled at the sound, Penny had told Letitia at breakfast. Letitia had dreamt while being knocked out by the pill, but she couldn't recall what about. An explosion seemed to have been a likely part of her dream.

'That stupid cunt!' Hank cursed.

'I call that justice,' Pete said. 'Chick should have waited until the biters could be knifed but she couldn't stomach that. Serves her right. Now, what about their settlement? How far away, are there road-blocks, how many people?'

'I'm really bad at guessing time. I'm sorry. But I know for sure there were no road-blocks as far as I could feel,' Letitia said, feeling cunning.

'Feel a road-block? Are you –' Hank started but his brother eyed him into silence.

'I wore a blindfold,' Letitia meekly reminded him.

'You got to see the police-station?'

Letitia shook her head. 'They kept me blind-folded until after I'd entered the dentist's truck.'

'Well equipped?'

'Yes. They said it had electricity from solar panels.'

'How many people did you get to see?'

'Alonso, he's the dentist, and Maud. She's Alonso's assistant.'

'How many people did you hear? Think!'

Letitia wished she didn't feel so small when facing the likes of Pete.

'There was a man called Randall. And one called Leo. And a woman called Sharon. They drove with us this morning to a place where Tom, Neill and Howard were placing animal traps. They got out there, trading places I guess.'

'They talked or what?'

'Randall told me about his young son. A toddler.'

'What did they talk about among themselves?'

'Leo asked whether I was free of pain. Sharon said that ever since she watched a film with Tom Hanks - '

'Yeah yeah. Did the dentist and his assistant talk to you?'

'At breakfast Maud said that there were people teaching classes. And they have at least two cooks. Oh, and Maud and Alonso adopted two children, a boy and a - '

'What else? Didn't you hear anything? Cars? People chopping wood or so?'

'I was in the truck most of the time. I guess it being a dentist's truck it was isolated very well.'

'Wearing a blindfold all the time?'

'No, but they put sheets on the outside of the window of the sleeping cabin.'

'Someone there is smarter than that chick,' Pete said. 'What did you hear outside the truck? Think!'

Henry placed his hand on his wife's back to reassure her.

'I uhm…'

Letitia didn't want to help Pete any more than she already had but if he got more upset with her, Henry might do something foolish. Therefore she said that she'd heard two children playing ball. 'Randall told them to get to school.'

'That's it?' Hank said.

'Those children could play outside before school. Means they have guards or a fence or both,' Pete thought aloud. 'Anything else?'

'I thought I smelled horses. And I heard pigeons.'

'They brought one, didn't they? Means that they don't have modern communication devices. Tell me more about the guards Letitia.'

On her way back Letitia hadn't been unconscious and shortly after leaving she'd been quite sure that she'd passed underneath something: however briefly the sounds had been different and it had become darker behind her blindfold. She realized Pete would find this information valuable but she truthfully said: 'I didn't hear any guards and they weren't mentioned.'

Pete eyed her and nodded. Letitia had to stop herself from swallowing her nerves away.

'They gave you breakfast?' Pete asked.

It had been weeks since Letitia had had a full meal and that was only partly due to her toothache. The thought of her treat brought a smile to her face but she wiped it away as soon as she became aware of it. It was too late though. Pete smiled his charming predator smile at her and kindly asked her what she'd eaten.

'There was bread with marmalade and porridge with fruit. And tea.'

'Looks like Martha and Camilla could have ended up in Cockaigne,' Hank remarked. Pete's answering smirk gave Letitia the shivers.

Chapter Text

'Why did she lie about it?' Rebecca wondered.

Maud, who sat next to Rebecca at the noon meal, followed her glance.

'I'm glad she hadn't brought them here yet. That poor Letitia was in such pain, I might have tried to lift her spirits by saying her friends seemed nice and they would fit in and all.'

'So?'

Maud failed to see what Neill, who was an intelligent man despite his lack of education, saw in his fiancée.

'Penny must have had a reason to make everyone believe they were dead, right?' Melody, seated opposite them, remarked. 'And we had an emergency drill this morning, remember?'

'Isn't that standard procedure?'

'Yes but I heard that the security team had a meeting yesterday, after Penny returned,' Maud said. 'And after she left to bring Letitia home some flatteners were placed on the roads and in the fields as well.'

Rebecca shrugged. Maud was about to ask her whether her fiancé hadn't told her about the scavenging trip that had resulted in Martha and Camilla's arrival but Rebecca expressed her curiosity as to what the two women had done for a living. Not waiting for a reply she added: 'I wonder what they will be assigned to do.'

Maud and Melody shared a glance and Rebecca thoughtlessly picked a potato from Maud's plate.

'Hello!'

'Oops. Sorry.'

OoOoO

Dale moaned with relief as he watered against a tree and for a moment he closed his eyes. When he opened them again he faced a knife. He parted his lips to say he meant to hurt no one or that he was all alone and had no possessions or that he travelled in a group of strong fighters, whatever would serve best, when the man threatening him put away his weapon.

'Sorry. I heard a sound and I thought you were a creep.'

'That's all right,' Dale managed. His finished what he was doing and zipped up.

'I'm Philip Neuvel,' the man said.

'Dale Horvath.'

From behind them came shouting. Dale and Philip shared a glance and hurried toward the source of the noise.

'No Eric!' Dale said when he saw that the young man was ready to throw a knife at a tall, broad-shouldered man in his forties who wore a homemade protective vest and held a hand bow.

'We mean no harm,' the tall man said.

Dale stepped forward and offered his hand for a shake, remembering a moment too late that he'd just peed.

'Dale Horvath.'

'Leo Stein.'

'From the Stein farm? Are you on your way to Penny's fair?'

'Yes!'

Dale suggested Leo to come and meet his people. Leo had a private word with Philip and Dale whispered to Eric that a simple pee turned out to be rather adventurous these days. Eric sniggered a bit, but he didn't put his knife in its shaft just yet. Dale smiled at that. Eric's cautious behaviour would have been wise if these were other people, but in his bi-monthly updates Howard had mentioned the Stein farm and Dale trusted the engineer's judgment.

OoOoO

To make sure everyone got to meet the newcomers Martha and Camilla stayed in the meeting room for the second meal shift. Randall remained for a moment to make introductions. Livia, after having made her pupils welcome the two women, got them to sit at a far off table. She was curious to learn more about the additions to their community, but she'd safe her questions for her brother-in-law.

Off-duty guards Missy, Daniel, Lana, John and Sarah C secured themselves seats at Martha and Camilla's table.

'Word spread that you don't want to live in your RV?' Daniel casually asked between bites.

Sensing that Daniel had hit a nerve, Missy chatted: 'For the travellers who took you in moving from A to B must be like breathing, but I sure prefer to be settled. So I can imagine that you asked Penny if you could live here.'

'I wonder,' Daniel asked. 'Did you know that Penny told us you'd died and the RV got lost?'

Camilla removed some fluff from her shirt. Martha nodded at Daniel and pretended not to understand his encouraging smile.

'For how long have you lived with these travellers?' Missy pleasantly inquired.

'Over a year.'

'Then the news of your deaths must –' Daniel started when the door opened and Penny and her team walked in.

'Just in time for zombie clearing!' Missy addressed Penny at the same time as Martha asked Penny whether Letitia had arrived home safely.

'She did Martha. I've got some bad news though: George and Patricia didn't make it.'

'Poor Lizzy!' Martha said. 'The others did?'

'Yes they did.'

After delivering this information Penny prevented people from discussing it by telling Missy that Sharon would take her place in the clearing team. 'Will you instruct Sarah N and Gareth? Leave the scorching for another time.'

'All righty.'

'Daniel, could you join me in the kitchen after we finished our meal?'

'Another security meeting? Of course.'

Penny joined her men at a different table.

'Sarah N is Sarah Nielsen,' Sarah Close informed Martha and Camilla. 'You must have met her and Mrs N? A.k.a. Caroline?'

The women nodded.

'She's Sarah N's grandmother. The blond boy over there is Alex, Sarah's brother.'

'The younger boys' name was Close,' Martha recalled from greeting the children. 'Are they your sons? Are you married to Marion?' she asked Daniel.

Sarah laughed as her brother turned red.

'Have I said something wrong? You're white and she's coloured and the boys –'

'She is Mrs Close,' Sarah said, 'but our dad is a polygamist. Denise over there, the woman in the green apron, she's father's first wife and Daniel's mother. My mum died. Marion is wife number three and just a year older than Daniel, so don't feel bad about your guess.'

'I'm about to marry Melody Stewart. Slender black woman?'

'I recall her. She told us she's in the fire-brigade,' Camilla said.

'Among others. Were you a fire-fighter Camilla?'

'I was a postman and yes, a volunteer fire-fighter.'

'What did you do before the shit hit the van Martha?' Lana asked.

'I was a real-estate agent.'

'So was my aunt! Sometimes she would take me to one of the houses she had for sale,' Lana shared. 'She was always interested in hearing what I had to say about rooms and decoration and such. Made me feel all grown up.'

Martha returned Lana's smile. Camilla started to cry without making a sound.

OoOoO

'So we'll have to face these men who don't trade but take,' Wyatt said after Penny and Howard had concluded their report.

'And it's not just them: they are in contact with others like them,' Daniel added as if Penny hadn't provided this information the previous day.

'Martha and Camilla seem harmless, so I can see why Penny opted to allow them in without consulting the admittance committee,' Daniel continued. When the only response he got was a glance Howard shared with Sheldon, he addressed Penny. 'What I don't understand is why you made everyone belief those women were dead.'

'You will remember what I said yesterday: Bill warned me that Pete and Hank hunt down those who leave.'

'That's why my sister set up a scheme to make Letitia think they were dead. And with us believing that too, Letitia wouldn't doubt that and she'd pass that information to her people. Penny didn't inform me until Letitia was on her way home.'

'I see that Randall, but why say that the RV –'

'A destroyed RV isn't worth fighting for,' Howard said, barely containing a sigh.

'Yet you fear that's what they'll do.'

'They came up with a scheme of their own: sell us an RV at a very low price,' Howard said. 'We thought of declining the offer on account of not being able to afford it but since we were sure that they'd attack us, because we obviously have goods and a medical staff, we decided it is best to "welcome" them on our terms. We're working on that.'

'But if they want bullets like you said, isn't it possible that they don't have a lot? Bullets won't endanger our wall,' Daniel said.

'Seriously? They want our bullets so we can't use them against them,' Sheldon pointed out.

Daniel looked around him and found no support for his idea. 'Of course. Just offering another perspective,' he said.

'Wanna have more workers making defence tools Pen?' Randall asked.

'Sharpened poles have multiple uses,' Penny said. 'And arrows always come in handy. For the time being I want the tower occupied 24/7.'

'How many guards?' Tom and Daniel asked simultaneously.

'One or two for now. Tom can make a selection and inform Sheldon.'

'Aye.'

'Right, anything else?' Wyatt said. 'No? Back to work then.'

OoOoO

Penny waved for Caleb to join her. He returned her wave and gestured that he'd be right with her. As he instructed some of his workers Penny checked the stability of the fence. There were more zombies near by than on average, for no matter how silently people worked at the construction site, they were bound to make noise. It wasn't anything the guards and the Howies couldn't handle though. In a nearby Howie that hadn't yet been emptied by the clearing team an old zombie was caught.

'Hi Penny!' Caleb was one of the construction workers that had built the original wall. Nearly two weeks before the zombie outbreak became official the wall had been finished and the workmen had returned home, all the way to the south of Missouri. Caleb had recalled the nutty Nebraskan farmer who'd wanted a wall and who'd bought the construction company's nearly written off mobile homes. He, his girlfriend Lana and their friend Neill had arrived some six weeks after Penny. Penny was sure that Caleb would have vainly fought them to gain access, but she'd allowed him inside anyway. She'd done that partly because a construction worker would come in handy, partly because she didn't want him to get a support crew to try and take over the place, and partly because Lana and Neill had looked so tired of running.

'Coming to help?'

Caleb's question wasn't a strange one for Penny randomly performed all sorts of tasks, from taking care of the horses to helping out in the garage. The only thing Penny never did, though she wondered whether anyone other than her Pasadena friends had noticed, was serving food.

'Not today. We're going to have the tower occupied for a bit longer. It might take workers away from here, but the Torsvik people who'll come tomorrow will be assigned to your team.'

'Great. Trouble ahead?'

'We run into some robbers,' Penny said.

'People are talking already. The two new women looked a bit anxious and there's the security meetings…'

'Better safe than sorry.

'We've got our wall,' Caleb said. He stretched his arms.

'Painful muscles?'

'A bit. Say Penny, I was wondering.'

They both looked at a zombie that was approaching from the direction of the village.

'Looks drunk,' Caleb joked.

'You were wondering.'

'Yeah. Maybe we could put sheets over the fences. So the workers won't see the zombies anymore?'

'I'll think about it.'

Behind them there was some noise: an overloaded wheel-cart had fallen over. Caleb sighed and went to boss people around again.

Penny was about to return to the main house, when the clearing party neared. Curious to see how Sarah N and Gareth would handle the zombie in the Howie as well as the approaching zombie, Penny stayed and watched. Missy looked like a warrior princess from a comic and yet seeing her made Penny fear for what Pete and Hank would do to the women and men she felt responsible for.

OoOoO

When walking to the downstairs storage room Penny heard Raj and Sheldon talk about strategy.

'Hi Penny!' Raj greeted her. 'We already thought of more ways to trick the tricksters. Is that a zombie's back-pack?'

'Yep.'

'Please drop it there,' Sheldon said. He checked things off a list after placing items in a box.

'ID's in the front pocket Sheldon.'

'Didn't you skip the clearing today?' Raj asked.

'I happened to be on the Nielsen site when the team passed by. Sharon threw the bag over the fence.'

'How was Sarah doing?' Raj asked through Sheldon's: 'This box is done.'

'She didn't even say "yuk" when a zombie's leg fell off.'

'That's my girl! I'll take that box to the car. Will I see you there Penny?'

'Yep. I'll take the other box once Sheldon is done with it.'

Raj left. Sheldon picked up the back-pack and went through it.

'Was the legless zombie the owner of this backpack? For from the contents of it I'd say that he, one Hugo Stuart by the way, was turned four years ago already. Only people who started travelling at the start of this would have taken shoe polish with them.'

'Perhaps it was Mr Stuart's Green Lantern Ring.'

Penny glanced at Sheldon's long, unadorned fingers and her eyes grew soft.

'I don't see how someone could find strength in shoe polish, but then my mother brought some "holy water" along. Oh look: it's completely dried out. I might put it in the museum.'

'I told the trainees that I prefer old zombies, gross as they look like, for the younger they are, the more likely that there's danger nearing us. I didn't mention that old zombies wandering across the country mean there isn't anyone to take them down.'

Sheldon retrieved a can containing sausages from the backpack and checked the date. 'Only two months over date and the can looks fine. Want to add it to the box for the criminals?'

Penny nodded and Sheldon set the can apart. 'Having only old zombies could also mean that no new zombies are created.'

While he'd talked Sheldon had taken a long sleeved shirt from the bag. He gestured toward the can. Penny nodded.

'Do you think that's likely?'

'All viruses stop spreading at a certain point,' Sheldon said, folding the shirt. 'Take for example the Black plague and the Spanish flu.'

'Melody told me something about a DNA sample she studied,' Penny said, her tone of voice indicating that she hadn't paid much attention.

Sheldon nodded. 'It led to nothing. I hope Leo Stein hasn't forgotten to bring Carl Berkoff's sample. He has Down's syndrome and certain diseases don't appear in his peer group.' Releasing a sigh Sheldon added: 'I wish Melody had finished her study instead of becoming an artist. And Rachel is a capable lab worker but she lacks a scientific mind. She's good at following instructions though, and she's got a knack for growing fungus. I wish she had time to do more than that. Our zombie research has been laughable so far. '

'Zombies aren't our main concern right now but you'll get there Moon Pie.'

'Only Meemah called me Moon Pie.'

'And I took over. Could you tell me where Marion is?'

'Meeting room, mending clothes.'

'I'll drop by there while you finish up here.'

Zombie-science (2010-2014)

At the start of the ZO two things swiftly became common knowledge: destroying the brain of a zombie killed it and people who got bitten died and turned. There was no opportunity to study zombies, at least not for those who had to flee them.

'On our journey here we found a baby that had turned despite not having bite-marks. It confirmed our theory that we are all infected and therefore that when people who aren't bitten die, they will turn,' says Rajesh Koothrappali. 'We informed everyone we met about that. We also questioned those we met about their experiences regarding the speed with which people turned. When we encountered Sophia [the "Pasadena Five" met Sophia Pelletier when they were on their way to Helsing in 2010, CB] she told us that she and her people had visited the Center for Disease Control, but that the only surviving scientist, doctor Edwin Jenner, didn't have a cure. Neither of us were neurobiologists but we planned to do our very best to learn as much as we could to beat the virus.' (interview CB, 2013-4)

A year after their arrival the scientists finally had time to spare and they studied the zombies that were caught in traps. The object of the study was to learn what triggered the zombies to find meat. Was it sound, movement, scent?

'We wanted to learn what happened if you put a bag over their heads. How did they respond when their ears were covered? Did zombies who couldn't bite behave differently from other zombies? After we checked all that Penny gutted a zombie and she wore its bowels around her upper body. It made the zombies ignore her, even when she wore the bowels over a plastic bag, but only if she remained silent and acted like a zombie: no normal walking, no talking. We copied the experiment on a rainy day, and it turned out that all zombies recognized her as a meal despite her giving a good impression of a zombie. We talked about going inside the mall wearing a 'bowel bag' but that was theoretical really. Despite us using nose-clips the scent of those bowels or other body parts for that matter was just… gross. Apart from Penny only Tom managed not to throw up. We tied up zombies and Penny and Tom, wearing bowel bags, got as close to them as was deemed safe. They both said that walking in between the zombies was utterly scary. So if they were to use the bag, we knew it couldn't be for long and it could only be for protection. Raiding a supermarket just wouldn't work: you need to do so many unzombie-like things then. If you were to lift something and take it with you, they'd notice and attack you. Our tests taught us that. Sneeze, clear your throat: they'd attack. In summertime we repeated our tests and probably due to the higher temperatures, the zombies were even more active than they'd been in January.' (interview CB, 2013-4)

For several months no more zombie-research was being done at the farm, for there were many others things to do. One day however Howard, on a scavenging mission, coincidentally found out something about zombie skin:

'I happened to find barb-wire with some zombie skin on it. I peeled it off and was still holding it when a zombie came for me. I dropped the skin, pulled my bat and somehow the skin got wrapped around the bat. For a brief moment, just before I ruined the zombie's skull, I could have sworn that it ceased to attack me. Back home we experimented with the skin I'd brought. We learned that the best way to use it was to wear it for a mask, after making holes in it off course, and to combine it with smearing zombie tissue on our clothes. We – Penny and Tom again – still had to move and act like zombies though. They said that wearing a mask made it a little easier to walk among zombies. We concluded that for camouflage it would work, but if it came to the need for camouflage, a bowel bag was easier to 'make'. And skin is… too personal. I don't even blink when killing a zombie but I wasn't capable of removing a zombie's teeth for an experiment. We used superglue instead. Skin's just… Even Sheldon agreed we wouldn't use it. We don't use a barrier of living zombies either. We heard about it through others, and we did give it a thought but well, people turning into zombies is bad enough without them becoming part of a horror show.' (interview CB, 2013-5)

Zombie-research wasn't made a top-priority, much to Sheldon Cooper's disappointment. On one occasion the scavengers encountered a man who said that he'd been bitten in his hand. His life had been saved by his friends cutting off his arm at the elbow almost immediately afterwards.

'An axe was added to the scavenging team's kit as well as disinfectant. Fortunately we've never had to use it so far.' (interview CB, 2013-5)

(From The history of Drottningville, by Cynthia Böhr, first edition July 2030 CE)

Chapter Text

Raj had a good look at the referend's huge barn and his expression spoke of surprise at its architectural state. He didn't speak though and Penny guessed that he didn't want to remind anyone that it had been a while since he'd been outside the wall. Penny was sure he'd be fine now: there would barely be any danger.

House zero, the former police station, had been built in the middle of nowhere because various villages didn't want other communities to have the honour of housing it. By 1904 a tiny village had come to existence for the police station got company from a church, a referend's house, a pub/diner, an elementary school, and a doctor's practice. In the 1990's the settlement had been proud when a huge ugly mall had been built on its grounds to accommodate the entire region. Its nearness had been convenient for the locals but the Nielsens, the Torsviks and Penny's family had been glad to live at a dead-end road themselves so the many customers the mall attracted weren't driving past their houses.

The police station, the church, some houses and the mall were the only buildings that had survived humanity's downfall. In the panic during the first weeks of the zombie outbreak the pub, the school and half of the referend's house had gone up in flames. Someone who'd entered the only remaining shop using his truck for a key, had caused the building to collapse, though it took many months for that to happen. A year after Ramona had entered the farm a tree had gotten hit by lighting and had fallen on her practice and on the houses next to it. Penny still recognized the village of her childhood though and she thought that might have something to do with the fact that as a girl her dream of moving away had been so powerful that to her the village resembled a ruin already.

House zero now served as a place to encounter strangers. The last time had been when they'd first met the people from Stein farm. Leo Stein had not been insulted when later on he'd been told that the former police station wasn't their headquarters.

Sharon parked the car in front of the entrance and Penny and Tom went to check the building. After they'd declared that it was safe, Raj got a crate from the jeep's trunk.

'I could use a hand indoors,' Raj said.

'I'll guard,' Tom replied.

'I'll relieve Leo,' Randall said and he made it for the church's tower.

Sharon responded before Penny could offer her assistance. 'Sissies,' she said with barely contained pleasure. 'I'll help you Raj.'

So Penny stayed outside and soon enough she and Tom were joined by Leo. The first creature to appear in sight was harmless: a cat seated itself on the jeep's hood to enjoy the warmth of the engine. Penny amused herself by thinking that perhaps cats would tell their kittens about the time when they held humans to serve them. The moment the cat's ears turned, Penny and Tom lifted their bows. Leo followed their lead. From a small park opposite the police station a grey-haired zombie came crawling toward them. Tom told Leo to kill it using his knife. Leo obeyed and didn't require instructions when it came to checking the body and moving it out of the way. Content with the way things had been handled the cat curled itself into a ball.

Uneventful minutes passed by. At a distance they saw zombies, but the wind was favourable and the creatures didn't sense them. At last Raj and Sharon were done.

'If you could inspect my work?' Raj asked Penny.

Penny grinned at her friend and gestured Tom to join her. The hall seemed to be in use. There was a pair of stained boots on a mat and from pegs hung torn jackets and colourful shawls. An information board held a drawing made by Melody, who'd noted down the date of creation: 9 October 2014. There was also a fake schedule, listing the names Letitia was familiar with and others, all from former Caltech employees. Penny recalled the leaflets from the AA and the "wanted" posters that once hung on the board.

The former office resembled a living room. There was a book on a desk, a piece of paper marking where the reader had left off. A pencil attached to a crossword puzzle added homeliness. On a desk in a corner lay some books and a couple of 1000 pieces puzzles. On a side table that served as a room divider stood fake plants and picture frames, most of which had graced the desks of the policemen but some of which were connected to the farm. Tom stared at a framed picture of Sissy with the new-born Michael.

'That's my sister Elizabeth. She died here,' Penny said. She was sure that Tom had heard the story before, if not when it came to the place where Elizabeth had died, but she suddenly longed to talk about her sister. 'After 12 July my mum freaked out. Sis went to get the doctor and Ramona took her visitors, Melody, Keisha and little Leila, with her. Sissy's jeep got hit by another car and they sought shelter here. Sissy had been bitten and a policemen locked them all in here. Randall searched for Sis and he ended up killing her. She looks happy in that picture, doesn't she?'

'Yes, very.'

Tom gestured at another frame. 'Is that young Mr Nielsen?'

'He was handsome wasn't he? When I was a girl I thought he looked like Sean Connery. I'm glad you got to know him.'

'A kind, down to earth gentleman.'

Looking at yet another picture Tom added: 'Your mother was kind too. Is that the tea house being built?'

Penny picked up the homemade frame that held a photo of her mother proudly standing in front of an octagonal structure. 'It is. Let's check the kitchen and then we'll go upstairs.'

The refrigerator in the kitchen wasn't functioning, but it served to store apples. On the sink stood mint plants and chive and some upside down mugs. A glass jar half filled with tea-bags and an apron were part of the tableau. Cupboards were filled with plates and pans. In a corner of the kitchen a mouse-trap had been placed on the floor.

Raj had destined the upstairs offices and cells to become bedrooms with sleeping bags for bedding. One room held a stained teddy bear as well as other toys and was obviously the children's bedroom. In the modest bathroom there was a pile of towels. A closet contained shirts, pants, underwear and socks, all neatly folded per size, that had been cast out by the sowing team at the farm.

'He's good,' Tom said.

'Isn't he? What's your view on covering the construction site's fences to spare the workers the sight of zombies?'

'I want to see danger coming, especially now.'

'Exactly,' Penny replied. 'I'll tell Caleb that I discussed his idea. Another thing: could you give it a private thought as to which guards are suited to live here and in the tower for shifts of say a week?'

Tom looked surprised for a moment, but he nodded. 'I can stay here until the threat is neutralized,' he offered.

'Leo and Sharon will be in the tower and you'll be busy enough in the days to come. You can have your evening off as planned.'

Back at the jeep Penny complimented Raj and Sharon. Raj smiled brightly. 'Have you noticed the laundry racks we hung from windows? Oh look, a cat! Here kitty kitty.'

Penny pictured Raj ten years from now, fuzzing over an adorable child and worshipping his Sarah. Howard would be married too most likely. That left her and Sheldon. She found it ironic that in the old world she'd had her pick of boyfriends and right now she was married to a job. She had thought that Sheldon might show an interest in Melody or Ramona or perhaps librarian Cynthia, who'd followed his "Introduction to physics" course and had brought pencil and paper with her to make notes.

The cat allowed Raj to caress her once and ran off. Sharon joined Randall in the tower and the rest of them got in the car. After delivering a note to the Wise's post box to inform them of possible danger, they returned and made it for the mall, that was less than a mile from the police station. When the wind came from the wrong direction, the sounds of zombies moaning reached the farm, as well as their scent. That scent now hit them fully and they all applied a nose clip. Leo, Tom and Penny walked toward the gate surrounding the parking lot. Raj followed them in the jeep.

'That's why you never scavenge here,' Leo mumbled, looking at the herd wide-eyed.

'We'd like to, if only for weapons, but there are just too many,' Penny softly said. She bent over to tie her shoe-lace. 'And the ones inside will likely have survived for a while, so they'll be even more dangerous than the ones here. Before you and Tom check the fence, there's the minute check. We always check the responses of two zombies: Green Skirt and Scotsman. There they are.'

Leo swallowed hard as he looked at a zombie in a green skirt who hungrily reached out for them. Its left arm nearly fell off. Scotsman earned its nickname from its hoodie with the word "Edinburgh" on it.

'Between Raj's "start" and "stop" you will check how many bite movements Scotsman makes Leo. Tom will count Green Skirt's.'

A minute later on Raj noted down the numbers.

'The doctors reason that in two years these zombies will no longer be able to bite. We'll give the mall a try then,' Penny softly told Leo. 'Now Raj will cover our back. You and Tom will check the fence. I will cover you.'

Tom showed Leo how to use a stick designed to test the strength of the pole fence. Where Tom trusted Penny and Raj to protect them, Leo was easily distracted and he kept looking at the noisily zombies as if there was no fence between him and them. Penny's former teacher reached out for them. He wore the leather messenger bag he'd had when she'd attended elementary school. Its strap, crossing his chest, was covered in dried blood.

The entrance to the parking lot consisted of a movable mash fence. After the only man who'd ever been abandoned from the farm had damaged it in order to release the parking lot zombies, a line of cars had been placed in front of it. Tom, Leo and Penny climbed over the hood of a red Volkswagen. Penny noticed there was still a stain left by the traitor. She didn't point it out to Leo, whose chocolate skin had turned creamy as it was. They walked from the mash fence to a pole one again and passed the division that separated the customers' parking lot from the one for staff only. The cars standing closer to the outer fence here, they saw zombies turn their heads to them from their driving seats. A man wearing a grey shirt appeared to be unharmed and could have died of a heart attack. There was a woman whose left shoulder had been bitten, but who'd still made it to her car. Penny was reminded of Hershel Greene and his barn filled with "family and friends".

Once they'd concluded that no zombies would escape any time soon, Leo unceremoniously threw up.

'It's different here, where they are people rather than plagues, isn't it?' Penny said.

Leo nodded, wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. 'I was out there for eighteen months. I totally lost it.'

'One more check: the emergency entrances at the back. Ready?'

Leo straightened up. 'Yes ma'am.'

Leo was only a few years younger than Penny and he usually called her by her name. Howard had once told her that a formal address was a way to show someone was in charge: They call me "sir" at times, believe it or not. Caleb does, when I'm showing workers how something needs to be done. And then when he asks me to pass the cheese I'm Howard again.

Followed by the jeep they went to the backside of the mall. Penny walked ahead to guard their front. The grass stood high which made guarding more difficult, for she needed to scan both the surroundings as well as the ground right in front of her. At one point Penny stumbled and fell. She felt a stab in her shin. Turning her body she jerked her leg away and the next moment she saw a zombie that tried to bite her. She shot it.

'Are you all right Penny?' Against protocol Raj got out of the car and Tom immediately gestured Leo to take the wheel.

'Sure honey. Shoelace got loose again,' Penny said, bending down to fix it as well as to hide her red cheeks.

Raj admiringly looked at the zombie's pierced skull. Leo and Tom kept an eye on the surroundings.

'Look, it has a little garden shovel stuck behind its belt,' Raj observed.

'Scraped my leg,' Penny said cheerfully. In a back pocket of the zombie's jeans she found a wallet.

'Let's move on,' Penny said as she forcefully removed her arrow.

OoOoO

After bolting her door from the inside, Penny sat down on her bed. She'd fallen because of the stupid shoe-lace. She got hurt by the stupid shovel. She killed a stupid zombie. That was it. She felt a bit dizzy, but it was close to dinner time, so she just needed to eat something.

That's it, plain and simple, so I might as well check my leg, Penny thought. With trembling fingers she pulled her damaged and muddied jeans up. There was a mark and it wasn't the sort of mark made by a shovel.

Chapter Text

‘Will Mariza be sitting at the table?’ Michael asked Missy.

‘No, but Mary-Elizabeth will.’

‘She’s only two,’ Michael mumbled. Of course his stepmother heard him.

‘Are you referring to the length of her name or to the fact that she’ll sit with us?’

‘You sound just like uncle Sheldon at times,’ Michael said. His father looked up from his paperwork in alarm and Michael winked at him.

‘No I don’t young man!’

Michael laughed. ‘Four plates then?’

Missy nodded and Michael set the table.

‘What are you doing dad?’

‘I’m checking my musical arrangements,’ John replied as he moved his pencil over the sheets of music he was reading.

‘For the weddings? What’s there to arrange?’

‘Sweety, don’t you ever listen when your father is talking music?’

Michael shrugged but he did give it a thought. ‘You can’t use the original music because you only have a few instruments?’

‘You got it. And I’ll even have less with Leslie not playing and Rebecca and Daniel being bride and groom.’

‘The Closes are like the Von Trapps,’ Missy said.

‘Will you be rehearsing?’ Michael asked.

‘We would have, but with the scavengers having encountered new people Leonard and Howard need time to prepare and Sharon’s in the tower guarding. We’ll just have a short after dinner meeting about the musical program. I reserved the kitchen for us.’

‘Wasn’t uncle Sheldon upset when you asked him?’

‘By Mr Wolowitz’s advice I told him that it was Anything Can Happen Thursday.’

OoOoO

How she could sit there so calmly was beyond her. It seemed more natural to shout and curse and throw things. Perhaps, Penny thought, this is what fear does when there is no way out.

She stared at her death warrant until the cooing of some pigeons made her aware that the world hadn’t come to a full stop. She looked at the ID from the zombie’s wallet as if that would somehow bring meaning. She’d gotten herself bitten by someone formerly known as Paul Parker. His picture showed a kind looking man.

Penny hit her bed. ‘Bitch! Bitch! You stupid!’

She wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and went in search for a piece of paper. A scribble would have to do: she’d lost too much time as it was. What had Sheldon concluded? Five minutes to six hours?

OoOoO

The musicians all arrived early for the meeting: Lydia and her daughter Cynthia were still cleaning dishes when they entered the kitchen. With a little help the ladies had soon completed their chore and they left. No sooner had the door fell close behind them or Sheldon entered.

‘I’m sorry for the intrusion, but I came up with an idea I’d like to mention to Howard and Leonard.’

John nodded and Sheldon started talking. His fellow scientists made suggestions and the other musicians made faces at their excitement, not understanding more than one word in ten.

‘After this meeting Raj and I will finish yesterday’s idea in the outdoor lab and then we’ll work on this. Could you fine-tune the formula?’

‘Piece of cake Leonard. I’ll tell Penny about it. She wasn’t present during dinner by the way. It is nearly her time of the month, so - ’

‘You keep track of that?’

‘She has moods Howard. I’d rather be warned.’

The women rolled their eyes.

‘I saw her leave the house some time ago,’ Leonard said. ‘Maybe she went to Tom’s place?’

‘Oh? Well. I will leave you to it then. Thank y’all for your time.’

Sheldon left.

‘That was about handling the robbers, wasn’t it?’ Rachel asked. Howard replied affirmatively and he was questioned some more, having seen the people Camilla and Martha had lived with after all.

‘Right,’ John said after his musicians had concluded that they’d be able to handle the robbers. ‘Let’s get started.’

Everyone proved to look forward to their contributions to both the fair and the weddings. Howard had mistakenly brought his harmonica and joked that it was easier to carry along than a piano or cello. ‘Isn’t that so, ukulele man?’ he teased Leonard.

‘The ukulele has captured my heart,’ Leonard solemnly said. Looking at his wife he added: ‘The tiniest part of it.’

‘I asked the brides and grooms for their favourite songs and I made arrangements to suit our modest orchestra,’ John said. He passed the sheet music around and he felt proud when Leonard and bass-baritone Alonso nodded approvingly.

‘In the future we’ll have Steven and Sansa join us I’m sure,’ Denise said. ‘They very much like their music lessons.’

‘And Sharon told me that Duane asked her to teach him how to drum,’ Livia said.

Rachel laughed. ‘He’s fifteen. My sister’s a woman.’

‘You think so?’ Livia asked. Seeing Howard smirk, she was the first to laugh out loud at her remark.

OoOoO

Feeling shaky Penny dropped herself on the toilet seat.

So this is where it ends, she thought. I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, I don’t! Stupid woman! You should have had your lower leg cut off, but no: you had to fool yourself, didn’t you? Tart! And what happens when the guys come for you? They’ll be devastated and their skills will kick in a moment too late. You’ll attack at least one of them!

Penny knew how to prevent that from happening. She took her gun and placed it under her chin, but no matter the vivid images her mind pictured of her eating her friends, she couldn’t bring herself to finish it all. Perhaps if the tiles hadn’t been reflecting, it would have helped her to do what was right, but seeing her own shady form this close to death made her drop the gun in the sink. Crying from fear and self-loathing she rested her head against the wall. It felt cold in contrast to her burning skin. Her limbs ached.

‘Moon kitty, soft kitty, little piece of pie…’ she sang as she lowered herself to the floor. She giggled. Thinking she was drunk after a high school party she covered her mouth with her hands lest her parents would hear her. A spasm ran through her body and she moaned. Not long afterwards she blacked out.

OoOoO

Sheldon wrote down the formula his friends would have to use on a white board in the outdoor lab and he rearranged tools, muttering to himself about chaotic scientists. He then walked to Tom’s house. It used to be Penny’s mother’s tea house, but last winter it had been improved by a loft, though that sounded better than it actually looked like. It held Tom’s bed and no more. Penny had helped Tom to build the extra floor. When she went scavenging, Tom was almost always in her team. As such that wasn’t significant, for so was Howard, but Howard had had a long distance relationship for the past eleven months.

Tom happened to be playing chess with Maud.

‘Are you practising for the fair’s tournament?’ Sheldon inquired.

‘Yes we are Sheldon. I heard you’re not allowed to play so therefore we might make it to the second bout,’ Maud said with a smile.

‘Your source was misinformed: I’m allowed to play. What I came to see you for Tom is to inquire after Penny’s whereabouts.’

Tom told Sheldon that he hadn’t seen Penny since they’d returned from their outing and Sheldon went over to Randall’s place. Penny wasn’t there but Sheldon couldn’t leave immediately: Leslie asked him his opinion regarding a physics dispute she had with Leonard. Livia and Randall watched the scientists walk from one white board to the other and listened to what Randall had styled “Syblah” as if they had a clue as to what it was about. Sheldon stated that Leslie was right and he left. He then walked to the outdoor lab where he found Leonard and Raj, both wearing leather aprons and safety glasses, busy working.

‘I just went over to your place to find Penny. FYI Leslie is right.’

‘Really? But –‘

‘Have you seen Penny Raj?’ Sheldon interrupted Leonard.

‘What? Uhm, not since we returned from checking the mall. I wish we could enter it. I’m sure it has portable telescopes in store. Those would have come in convenient last week to teach my class about the blood moon. It’s a good thing the moon is so big a satellite. Anyway, Penny killed a zombie at the back of the mall.’

‘She hasn’t brought me an ID.’

‘She took the zombie’s wallet all right. Must have slipped her mind. She stumbled over her shoe lace and there it was. The zombie. It had a little shuffle that hurt her leg. Astrid might turn it into something else.’

‘I’m sure Brienne is up to that. Now let me rephrase: do you know where Penny is?’

‘In her room?’

Sheldon went to Penny’s room. Walking past the community room he heard the sounds of people playing pétanque. After knocking on Penny’s door there was no reply and after a moment he stepped inside. Penny’s room was deserted. On her pillow lay a folded note. It was addressed to: Dad, Randall, John, Sheldon, the guys. Sheldon was more anxious than pleased to see his name singled out: the handwriting deteriorated starting after “Sh”. He unfolded the note.

OoOoO

When Sheldon burst into the CDL holding a piece of paper, Howard instantly felt terrified. His friend’s expression of sheer horror made him want to flee. Sheldon couldn’t speak. He held the note for Howard to read.

I got bitten. I’m so sorry. I’ll make it to the upstairs toilet of the Nielsen house and lock myself there. In case you need to do it: don’t hesitate. I love you. Tell Mary-Elizabeth, Niels and Babies W about me will you?

Love, Penny

‘We must go there,’ Howard said through his tears. Sheldon, pale as a ghost, nodded.

Chapter Text

Dale had gotten used to Daryl sharing his passenger seat, but right now he was accompanied by Philip. The two groups had decided to combine their forces and Dale's van was the middle one of a train of five vehicles.

'How did you learn about Drottningville?' Philip softly asked Dale, for there were people sleeping in the back of the van.

'Years ago we run into Penny and her friends.'

'Before or after the outbreak?'

'After. We were camping at a farm, present day Greeneville, and they did miracles to make it safe.'

'Was it overrun?'

'No.'

From the corner of his eye Dale noticed Philip's surprised expression. To prevent the young man from questioning him about why he'd left Dale gestured at the plastic covered trunk of the jeep in front of them.

'I guess that's all trading goods huh?'

'Yeah. I'm really excited about going to the fair,' Philip shared. 'You won't believe how jealous people were of those who got selected.'

'I believe you! Meeting new people and doing something that belonged to the old world: a fair and games! Small wonder people envied you. I won't be participating in the games, but I look forward to them. I feared we might be too late for it all, but since they won't start until after your arrival, I'm truly glad we run into you.'

'It feels safe, travelling with a larger group, even though we all know how to handle creeps, even Edward, although you wouldn't say so. He's nice. We share a room and he barely ever snores. Shame that there are eight others who do.'

'Wow. That's crowded. What's it like otherwise?'

'We all work for the roof over our head and the food on our plate. What about your former place?'

'The same.'

'Was it crowded?'

'Twenty-eight people. Most grown singles had a room of their own.'

Philip whistled. 'Still I'm glad that I found the Stein farm. Better being surrounded by snoring men than by creeps and better being bossed around than eaten.'

Dale grinned along with his passenger and wondered whether Leo, who'd seemed like one of the guys, was a different man at home. He planned to pay attention and question some other Stein people.

Philip ticked against a small Elmo doll hanging from the rear-view mirror.

'Will you participate in the games Philip?'

'Yes: in the weight lifting category. I used to work for a pharmaceutical firm, but being a farmhand for four years gave me muscles.'

'I'm sure it did. What did you do in the firm?'

'Clerk. Didn't particularly like it, but wouldn't mind having that life back. What about you?'

'Retired salesman. Bought this van to travel the country with my wife. She died just before the start of the outbreak.'

It was silent for a while and then Philip softly said: 'I envy those who know what happened to their family and friends.'

'I understand: I too have loved ones that –' Dale started. He wiped away his tears, startled at his sudden outburst of emotion.

'I just hope,' Philip said, 'that if my mother and brother and sister are alive, they'll assume that I'm dead. Nothing to be done but mourn and move on. If not, they'll worry for me and feel guilty for not searching for me. I have nightmares about me not searching for them while they're alive and need help. Cate, the woman with the scar on her cheek, used to be a therapist. She helped me a bit. But at times I just -. Well, it sucks.'

'It does. And part of why it sucks is that we can still enjoy things, isn't that so?'

'Yes. But that's because there are still things to enjoy.'

'Remember that Philip. Always remember that.'

OoOoO

Sarah Close, who was guarding at the gate, told Howard and Sheldon that Penny had left for the Nielsen property an hour and a half previous. 'She went to bring supplies for the workers. And she said she wanted some quiet time.'

'We're going to the Nielsen property too,' Howard said when Sheldon remained silent. The sixteen year old didn't question them but as she opened the gate she asked whether they'd heard something too. 'A while ago? Like something collapsed. Maybe the vicar's old shed in the village broke apart?'

'Could be,' Howard curtly said.

He and Sheldon didn't speak as they walked to the backside situated entrance of the Nielsen house.

'Check downstairs first?'

Sheldon nodded. The men turned on their headlights. On the floor of the hall stood a jar of water. Howard whistled and there was no reply. After checking two empty rooms Howard muttered: 'This is hell.'

When the ground floor proved clear, they went upstairs. The door to the toilet stood slightly ajar. Howard coughed and nothing happened. Using a telescopic prong that served to restrain zombies, he opened the door further. A bow stood between toilet and wall. A small gun lay in the sink and stuck against the wall was a long blonde hair.

Howard cried out Penny's name. No hungry zombie shuffled toward them. The men checked all rooms but Penny was nowhere to be found. Howard went back downstairs and Sheldon followed him once more.

'So she walks,' Howard said when Sheldon just stared ahead. 'If she turned before the shed fell apart, she might have wandered that way.'

Sheldon made no reply. Howard wished there was someone to take charge for he felt as beaten as Sheldon looked. He cleared his throat. 'Or she went to the wall.'

Howard couldn't bare the idea that Penny might walk straight into the barriers that were named after him. He was about to tell Sheldon that they would make a round past the trench, but his friend made it for the village. Howard tried to stop him, but when Sheldon just kept walking, he gave up. Like a robot Sheldon opened the fence. Howard closed it behind them. On their way to the village they encountered four old zombies. Howard finished them off but he only had time to retrieve one arrow for Sheldon was marching on.

Sarah had indeed been right: the shed had collapsed. The brand-new ruin bathed in the light the moon had to offer. At a distance from one another three zombies stood gazing over the remains of the shed.

Two zombies turned around when they sensed fresh meat. One of them was fairly complete, the only wound on its body being a half-eaten cheek. The other one had lost an arm as well as a chunk from its waist.

'I'll take Baseball Cap,' Howard said in a whisper. With unsteady arms he fired his bow. It pierced the zombie's chest. With Sheldon just standing there Howard reloaded and hit the zombie's brain. It took him three arrows to kill One Arm.

Howard took a sixth arrow to handle the third zombie. Though it was only some fifty feet away, it still stood with its back toward them, its blonde hair put up in a bun.

'Penny!' Howard cried out. He hadn't pulled the string yet. From behind a collapsed wall came a zombie whose nose had been eaten. It walked straight passed the third zombie.

'Damn it Penny! You were supposed to do this for me, remember?' Howard shouted through his tears. He let No Nose come close and used his bat on the creature, not looking up until Sheldon made a small sound. Zombie Three had turned around. With a shout of joy Sheldon ran toward it.

'No!' Howard cried out. He hurried after his friend who had truly gone crazy now.

Chapter Text

Sheldon lifted Zombie Three of her feet and whirled her around.

'Sheldon! Drop her! Now!'

Sheldon gently put Zombie Three to the ground. 'She isn't a zombie! Our Penny is all right! Aren't you Penny?'

Howard looked at… whatever Penny was. Her eyes weren't glazed over and she appeared not to be hurt. Her expression was completely blank though and she didn't respond to them. Howard lowered his bow.

'You thought you were bitten and the shock made you act the way you did Penny. But you aren't bitten and so you're not turned. If you were turned, you would have attacked us. You didn't so therefore you are not a zombie,' Sheldon explained to their taciturn friend.

For a delightful moment Howard believed Sheldon's reasoning to be solid, but then he recalled something. Before he could voice his thoughts, Sheldon spoke again: 'I heard you fell near the mall. Do you believe to have been bitten in your leg? Let's check that, shall we?'

Sheldon knelt down and examined Penny's legs in the light of his head-light.

'There's some damage here. Well, that must be caused by the little shovel that naughty zombie carried with it,' Sheldon reasoned. 'Raj told me about it.'

A tear tickled Howard's cheek. Sheldon slowly moved up the torn left leg. He gasped. 'It is a bite-mark.' he whispered. 'Oh Penny…'

Could it be possible, Howard thought, that Penny was still turning? The thought he'd had when Sheldon had told Penny that she wasn't a zombie, returned.

'Those zombies didn't respond to her Sheldon! When someone is bitten, zombies see a meal. If she is somehow still turning or if the process hasn't started yet, which would all explain for her not wanting to eat us, the zombies would have eaten her.'

Howard hit Penny in the face.

'Howard!' Sheldon exclaimed.

'Talk! Please!'

Penny remained silent. Howard took her hand and started walking. Penny moved clumsily but Howard simply dragged her along.

OoOoO

Tom hurried up the wall, his rifle over his shoulder.

'I'm sorry,' Sarah C said. 'I know it's your evening off but I'm not yet that good at reading light signals.'

'Go to tower two and get the lamp,' Tom ordered, annoyed that Sarah hadn't done so already.

By the time Sarah returned, Tom had seen the full message.

He signalled back and the incoming signals stopped.

'Penny, Howard and Sheldon will spend the night in house zero. All is well.'

Sarah told Tom about Penny leaving and Howard and Sheldon joining her. She suggested they were working on a scientific experiment and mentioned that the shed might have imploded.

'I'll sleep in tower two, just in case there's another light message,' Tom replied. 'Call me the moment it starts.'

OoOoO

At the start of their wake the shadows cast on Penny's face by flickering candles made Howard wish they had the benefit of daylight, for his vivid imagination pictured her features to change into that of a hungry zombie, though at the same time his logical brain reasoned that having seen what he'd seen, Penny wouldn't turn. He was no fool though, so he'd used his belt to tie her to a kitchen chair. For hours now he and Sheldon had tried to make Penny talk by chatting about various topics, from little Niels to how they planned to welcome Pete and Hank but Penny wouldn't speak and she sat with her eyes closed.

'It must now be approximately nine hours after she was bitten,' Sheldon said.

Howard nodded.

'Once we've handled the robbers, we should ask everyone for blood and DNA samples, the Torsvik people and the Stein people too. We have to assign someone exclusively to zombie lab work, as I suggested on numerous occasions already.'

Howard, though he hadn't planned to fall asleep, dreamt of sentient zombies.

OoOoO

'Why would they have gone there?' Leonard said. He and Raj stood on the wall and stared in the direction of the village. The copper ornament on the church's tower caught the light of the upcoming sun.

'I don't know.'

'Daniel was a bit pissed for not being involved as "head of security". He thinks that Sheldon came up with a way to fight Pete and Hank and that Howard and Penny went along to help him.'

'Some security man not to check data. The gate's log says that Penny left first.'

'It also says that she went to the Nielsen place to drop supplies. House zero wasn't mentioned. She always sticks to the rules. It doesn't make sense.'

Leonard shrugged and added: 'If there was an experiment, why didn't they ask us to join them?'

'You have a wife and a child on its way. I have Sarah. And we don't come outside the wall that often anymore. They might think we are not - '

Raj covered his mouth with his hand.

'What?' Leonard said, alarmed.

OoOoO

Raj didn't tell Wyatt about his true fears, but the fact that he was obviously worried was enough for the farmer to tell the construction team to remain within the wall for now. Daniel assigned those who would have guarded them to make defence tools. The shield raised from tower four informed the Torsvik farm of code beige.

Once they'd left the safety of the farm and mounted their two wheeled horses, Raj turned around for what he hoped was a reassuring wave at his Sarah. Leonard was glad that Livia was in the classroom already and didn't know about his outing. They travelled in silence until they spotted three dead zombies near the collapsed shed. They both stopped.

'Someone got angry,' Raj observed in a small voice as they stared at an utterly ruined head.

'Yeah,' Leonard managed in reply.

They continued driving and found more dead zombies.

'According to their message they're all right,' Leonard said. 'I do think you're wrong.'

Raj could tell that his friend was lying but he said: 'I hope so.'

'After all these years. She can't be…'

OoOoO

The cry of a bird made Sheldon sit up with a jolt, remembering where he was and why. His painful back made him groan and that woke up Howard. Penny was gone. The men grabbed their weapons.

OoOoO

Raj and Leonard reached the T-junction. Staring in the direction of the mall was Penny. She didn't carry any weapons but she stood tall and straight.

'Penny!' Leonard cried out triumphantly. He dismounted.

A zombie wearing a green sweater emerged from behind a house but Penny stayed where she was.

'Penny! Come here! Run!'

Raj and Leonard readied their bows. Leonard's arrow hit the zombie's leg.

'Fuck! You aim for the zombie, I'll get Penny.'

Leonard started running but he inconveniently moved in Raj's field of vision, preventing him from finishing the zombie. The creature ignored Penny, who was close by, in favour of Leonard.

It took Raj a moment to realise what he'd seen. 'Holy Krishna!' he cried out. At the same time the thought hit Leonard, who, instead of turning around, kept running ahead, though this time into a direction as to avoid the zombies.

Raj now had a decent chance to shoot but he stood there trembling and by the time he got to his senses Leonard had sought safety between some foliage. Green Sweater followed him in its clumsily yet determined way. There was a sound of someone falling and a cry of pain. Raj recklessly entered the thorny bushes and ended up nearly a hundred feet away from Leonard, who was flat on his back and using his arms and one leg, moved away from the zombie that had just dropped itself next to him.

'Here zombie, get me!' Raj screamed as he readied his bow. From a small distance he heard Howard and Sheldon cry out for Penny. Leonard took his knife and in an attempt to pierce the zombie's skull he stabbed its neck but at least he managed to hold it off a bit. From behind a bush the familiar shape of Penny appeared. Raj whimpered and stood frozen. In his mind's eye he could see Penny devour Leonard as well as himself. He closed his eyes but opened them again on hearing an unexpected sound.

Penny had smashed the zombie against a tree, head first.

Chapter Text

The moment Raj and Leonard went to the garage to get their Vespa's Missy was encouraged by her co-workers, Daniel among them, to visit Leslie who might know what her fellow scholars were up to. Being rather curious herself, Missy obligingly put down the axe she was using to sharpen a bamboo pole and went to the workmen's house. It was a plain two storey building, made in the 1970's to accommodate the extra hands needed during the harvest season. Missy liked plain when it went along with practical and as she was still thinking about that when she stepped into the dining kitchen/living room the two couples shared, her first remark after greeting Leslie was that she liked her house.

'So do I,' Leslie said. 'Don't you like your home?'

Missy shrugged. 'I'm grateful to have my own. But sometimes I find it unbelievable that I'm living in an RV. My momma thought that people in mobile homes were trash.'

'She bought yours, didn't she?'

'Yeah. After Shelly had convinced her about the zombie threat. It was her last house. And George's and Meemaw's too. I suppose it's worth cherishing for that reason alone.'

'Ouch!' Leslie said, dropping the arrow she was working on on the table and pressing her hands on her belly.

'Giving trouble?'

Leslie shook her head. 'I'd be really nervous if it didn't make a fuss.'

'Absolutely. Say do you know what Penny and her gang are up to?'

'Huh?'

'Penny, Howard and my brother spent the night in house zero and most people think it has to do with the robbers from Camilla and Martha's group. Wyatt kept everyone within the wall after Raj talked to him this morning. Raj and Leonard just left to join the threesome. '

'Leonard and Raj worked in the outdoor lab yesterday evening,' Leslie said. At breakfast Leonard had been excited about what he'd done but Leslie, chagrined for being unable to help her colleagues due to the fatigue that hit her multiple times a day since she'd entered her sixth month, rather than making inquiries had changed the topic. 'The guys are preparing for an attack.'

Despite having expected that Missy got a sick feeling in her stomach. She fingered an arrow. 'Sometimes I picture how it would be to lose it all. Be on the road again, with two children, facing zombies and more dangerous evil.'

'To lose this, someone must take it. I won't allow for that. No one will.'

Missy looked from Leslie's enormous belly to her piercing eyes. 'I know. I will fight too.'

'Like last time.'

'Yeah.'

Simultaneously the women said: 'Poor Fred.'

'He was on guard at the gate when Livia and I arrived,' Leslie recalled fondly. 'I was thrilled to see his decent face.'

'Decent?'

'Yeah. We'd met a lot of two-legged beasts on our way here. He wasn't one of those and I knew that no matter what we'd ended up in a safe haven.'

Missy repressed memories of her own journey to Penny's farm and grinned. 'If recollection doesn't deceive me, you didn't lower your gun until Leonard came running toward you.'

Leslie smirked. 'Old habits.'

'Any idea what the guys are doing exactly?'

'They probably came up with something interesting and Penny's there to protect them. If those guys are playing, they won't be watching zombies after all.'

This being said Leslie reached for some feathers. Missy took her cue. While walking to the gate to see if they were allowed to leave already she talked to several people about her chat with Leslie and she herself was informed that Martha, when questioned about the travellers, had described some men in her former group as "violent". Ten minutes later on Caroline, who'd come to the kitchen in the main house to deliver tomatoes she'd grown in the vertical garden, was told by Denise that word was that the scientists were preparing something advanced to fight an enemy, possible having to do with damaging fire-weapons.

'I hope Raj takes care,' Caroline said.

'I'm sure he does. Such a smart young man.'

'Isn't he?' Caroline said with a content sigh. 'And so loving to Sarah. And so kind toward Alex.'

'And charming,' Denise acknowledged, for she knew just what would please the sweet elderly lady.

Caroline in her turn said nice things about Neill and Melody, and Denise nodded along while she cleaned potatoes. Caroline located a potato knife in a drawer and started helping Denise. They talked about Martha and Camilla and agreed that they seemed to be kind women. A bit shy perhaps, but there was nothing wrong with that.

'You knew Penny as a child, didn't you?'

Caroline nodded. 'She was a cute girl. A bit of a tomboy in her early years. I feared for her when she went to LA. Such a tough city, such an inexperienced girl. My dear James wasn't worried. He said that a rodeo-queen would make it anywhere. Sissy wasn't into rodeo… She was more into baking. And boys. She was so lucky to find John. And he to find her, I may add.'

The women worked in silence for a while. It was broken by Denise: 'What we have here works just as well as the old system. Maybe better. What if the Greeneville people object to it?'

'They won't,' Caroline decisively said. 'I'm sure Howard informed them about our rules.'

'Yes, but they could say they accept them, and then try to ruin the system from within.'

'We are within too. If someone tries to do damage, we'll fight. Not with fists or arrows, but with our tongues!'

Denise thoughtfully nodded. She was not made for the outside world but she made a contribution inside and she knew that she was appreciated. Some people, and she wasn't necessarily thinking of the small Greeneville group, needed more than that.

OoOoO

Raj had peed his pants and Leonard's leg was broken, but these were inconveniences easily overcome by a change of clothes and a handful of aspirin for having seen Penny go undetected by zombies puzzled their minds.

The four scientists sat in house zero's living room, with Leonard occupying the couch. They stared at Penny, who stood in front of a window and stared outside. Howard told Raj and Leonard about Penny having been bitten and her somehow having survived that. At her name being mentioned Penny turned around. She sat back against the window-sill but didn't utter a word.

'Penny,' Raj said reverently, 'you are the Key.'

'She is Wonder Woman,' Sheldon said without a trace of a doubt.

Chapter Text

Marion brought the construction workers apples and offered a massage to anyone who had sore arms or an aching back. Her healing hands were well known, but people didn't queue up in front of her for a treatment only. They also gathered near her to pry for information of which the second Mrs Close had plenty to share. Not only could she tell the construction crew that the doctor had said that though Leonard would be less mobile for a while, he'd be fine but also that Penny had lost her voice.

'According to Raj she simply has a sore throat,' Marion said while working on Alonso's shoulders, 'but I think it's stress related. You know, from saving Leonard.'

Alonso said that Leo had told him that Penny would like to scavenge in the mall. 'I think their outing – ouch! - had to do with that.'

Missy impatiently pointed out that the scientists had been excused from construction duty and spent a lot of time in their labs to prepare for an attack and why would they waste time to find a way to explore the mall? Alonso replied that the extra guns the mall would no doubt provide would surely help to fight the robbers. Those who preferred not to think of possible danger ahead countered that the scientists always spent a lot of time in the labs and besides: their neighbours had come over like they always did on Friday.

'And you've brought the children here, didn't you?' Sarah C asked Astrid Torsvik, who nodded and said: 'They longed to go to school. We didn't think code beige was a reason to stay at home.'

OoOoO

Wyatt emerged from the stables. Seeing Penny sit on a stool in front of the former garage that served as the outdoor lab, he went over. His daughter's eyes wandered from one branch of the old chestnut tree to another. It wasn't like her to sit so idly. He looked at the tree to see if he'd missed something.

'It's like a fairy at a ball, isn't it?' Howard, who was working on an excavator, said by way of a greeting.

'What?!'

'The tree.'

Wyatt shook his head at this sign of Howard's poetic side. 'There's all sorts of talk going on. Gossip really,' he told his daughter. When she didn't reply other than by making a throatily sound, it was Howard who asked Wyatt about the nature of the gossip.

'Some people think you guys set a trap in the village for Pete and Hank. Just in case.'

'We are preparing for them,' Howard replied.

'Others think your outing has to do with the mall. They believe that the shed imploding was your work and that you plan to do that to the mall too to get people thick boots and windproof clothing and such shit.' With a warning in his voice he added: We've got all we need here. Better be careful.'

'We will be Wyatt,' Howard replied.

'Leonard wasn't was he?' Wyatt said. Looking at Penny he added: 'That's why you had to save him, didn't you Slugger?'

'He tripped and there happened to be a zombie nearby,' Howard casually said.

'You could have told me about your outing. Raj was worried this morning. He must have thought something had gone wrong. I pictured Pete and Hank hurting my little girl.'

Again there was no response from Penny. Seeing the concerned expression on Howard's face, Wyatt repressed his anger and worries regarding his daughter's behaviour and kindly asked: 'Are you all right Slugger?'

It got him a feeble smile, followed by a hug.

OoOoO

Dale sat atop his van. 'You're a wonderful van,' he whispered. He knew it was a silly thing to do and even sillier to expect the van to continue driving and protecting them because of the compliments he paid her. Dale smiled and bent over to pat her roof.

Beneath him people were setting up camp. His new friends – all of them – turned out to be good companions. Suddenly Dale was reminded of Lori. She'd once made a belittling remark about his habit of calling new people friends. But I'm sure they will be friends, he'd said. So why not call them that. It's better than referring to them as "the others" or "the strangers". Lori had told him that he was naive. Just like your husband, he'd wanted to say, but he hadn't. Of course not all people he met actually became friends. He'd never got to like Adam, who'd married Patricia, nor Adam's sister Gladys, who'd tried to woo him, old Dale. But Peter, who'd joined them a year ago with his siblings and nephews and nieces, gave him the shivers and then there was Shane. So when his precious girl had announced that she wanted to move, it had only taken him a moment to say he'd join her. Lori had thought him foolish. Making a journey like that at your age, she'd said. If my presence ensures that my friends arrive at Penny's farm safely, I'd say mission accomplished, he'd replied.

Dale saw movement behind some bushes. A group of some thirty zombies was heading their way.

'To arms!' he cried, grabbing his rifle.

There was shooting and retreating and reloading. There was shouting and moaning and gnashing of teeth. Dale had a good overview but when the zombies and the humans got too close to one another, he left the roof to engage in close combat.

OoOoO

With no one in the CDL except Sheldon and Penny, it raised no questions when the former took the latter's blood and DNA samples. Penny kept an eye on the monitors.

'Penny, your sister turned. Did your mother also turn?'

'Don't know. Dad shot her.'

'It could still be x-chrome related,' Sheldon said. 'The next person I'll ask for a sample will be your father.'

Penny checked the time indicator on one of the monitors. It had been some 18 hours since she'd been bitten. Her friends were convinced that she wouldn't turn, but she wasn't sure it couldn't happen still, despite the way zombies had reportedly acted toward her. Dream and reality were hard to separate just yet.

'I feel like Alice in Wonderland,' she said.

'It will make sense. Time will pass by and you won't be afraid anymore.'

'Aren't you?'

'I was terrified. I am no more.'

Penny watched the monitors. Sheldon stared at Penny.

'Sheldon?'

'Yes Penny.'

'Hold me please?'

OoOoO

Daniel, having learned that Penny had taken a double shift monitoring in the CDL, awaited her when she was to be relieved by Raj. He tried to get information from the man, but Raj merely repeated what he and Leonard had told him previously: that they'd gone to house zero to pick up their friends. Did they take him for a simpleton? Anyone could understand there was more going on and with him being in charge of security, at least when Penny wasn't around, he ought to be informed. He'd mentioned this to Howard, who'd reminded him that he was one of two second-in-commands and that he didn't need to know more about their "outing". It took a while before Penny left the CDL after Raj's arrival and Daniel was sure that Raj must be telling her: "Daniel's nagging". When Penny emerged he failed to acknowledge her kind smile.

'I tried to get information from your friends about your unannounced trip to house zero. All I got in return were a lie and evasive answers.'

'A lie?'

'I'm supposed to believe that Raj and Leonard went over to pick up the three of you using only two Vespas.'

'Raj drove Roheryn, who can seat three.'

Right! Daniel thought. 'Why were you there? Did it concern plans regarding the expected attack?'

'No it didn't. Any such plans will be shared with security.'

Daniel waited for a moment, hoping Penny would continue talking. When she didn't and even stifled a yawn, he mumbled a greeting and left for the kitchen block of house six where he was certain to find his fiancée. He was glad to see that Lana, Caleb and Ramona weren't present. Keisha continued to throw darts but Melody stopped playing to sit with him. He gave her a summary of the things that troubled him and concluded: 'I bet she did tell Tom.'

Keisha looked over her shoulder. 'If she did, well they were out of the wall and Tom –'

A gesture from her sister made her swallow the rest of her line and she resumed her game.

'She said it didn't have to do with the robbers right?'

'Yes, but you have to admit: the five of them meeting at house zero and three of them spending the night there: for what? Why?'

'It could be something personal.'

'That doesn't make sense.'

'Maybe they were testing something? There's talk that they want to implode the mall.'

'That. Doesn't. Make. Sense. And if they plan something, I could contribute.'

'Maybe they just wanted to have more guards at the village, in case the robbers would arrive unexpectedly,' Keisha volunteered.

'And why wouldn't they have said so?'

'They'll have their reasons.'

Daniel sighed in annoyance. 'I bet they did tell Tom.'

'Can't you just trust them?' Melody asked.

'Or reason that their trip didn't have to do with security?' Keisha suggested while throwing her little arrows. 'When Sharon and Leo return you could question them and learn that Penny, Howard and Sheldon were rehearsing a medley for your wedding.'

'Make fun about it. I'm not convinced they are not keeping things from me.'

Melody sighed. 'It must be a reassurance that they're keeping things from everyone. I don't know any more than you do.'

'You're not a security officer.'

OoOoO

The door to the CDL stood open. Sheldon sat near Penny's room, going over a list with points concerning the expected attack. For some time the only background sounds he heard were the cooing of pigeons and the wind rustling through the chestnut. Then from behind the door where he sat guard came an off-key voice singing a joyous song from Mary Poppins.

'Isn't it loverly?' Howard, monitoring in the CDL, said.

'Wrong musical. But yes it is assuming you're not referring to the quality of the singing.'

A bolt was removed and the door was opened. 'Good morning!'

Penny, wearing a kimono, glanced at a small hand bow that was casually leaning against a wall. 'You would have been too late to grab that,' she said.

'Zombies can't handle bolts,' Sheldon said through Howard's: 'Too late to cut off that song?'

Penny just smiled until her eyes watered. 'I'm still alive. I don't want to eat you.'

'We wouldn't appreciate it if you did Penelope,' Howard said.

As Penny dried her cheeks Raj approached carrying a tray.

'Hello Penny! I brought us breakfast.'

'And a rose,' Penny said, moved.

'I made it out of paper. Leonard wrote you a note.'

Penny took the note from the tray.

Zombies don't read. You read. You are not a zombie.

Love, Leonard

'By Newton woman, I hope that "You Know What" isn't going to have a lasting effect on your tear-production,' Sheldon said.

OoOoO

'Is she all right?' Leonard asked when Raj, clearly agitated, burst into the living room/kitchen of the workmen's house.

'You must talk some sense into her!'

'I knew she'd be fine!' Leonard said with a beaming smile.

'You wouldn't say so!' Raj exclaimed, stamping the floor in frustration.

'I need an update buddy.'

Raj sighed and without taking off his coat seated himself at the dining table. Leonard put down the bow he was making.

'Penny wants to go inside the mall to get protective gear and weapons and to rob the pharmacy.'

Leonard looked at Raj wide-eyed at first, but then, to Raj's dismay, he nodded. 'If Penny feels she's up to it…'

'What? We can't let her go in there! She only met one zombie at the time. What if a herd will attack her?'

'Single zombies don't behave differently from a group of them.'

'What if the zombies that encountered her so far were ill zombies? Lacking sense of smell or you know, something. I don't want our Penny to be eaten.'

'What did Howard and Sheldon say?'

'Howard feels more research is needed as to how the zombies behave around Penny. But he's very anxious about the travellers. I told him that we faced other dangers and that no one felt the need to go shopping with zombies.'

'But we have Penny now. What did Sheldon say?'

'Quote: it would be foolish not to use our strategic advantage. End quote. As if she is a chess piece. You know what he said when I said that?'

Leonard shook his head, Raj being opposed against Penny's idea now giving him second-thoughts too.

'He said that she'd be the grand empress.'

To Raj's anger Leonard laughed. He rose and made to leave, but Leonard stopped him by using his walking stick as a barrier.

'I'm sorry Raj. Sheldon's designing a three player chess. The grand empress is a very powerful piece.'

The front door opened.

'This isn't a game!' Raj said.

'No. And like you I don't want Penny to get hurt. But she won't go there all alone, will she? Well inside she will, but -'

Leslie entered the room.

'Hi Raj!'

'Hello Leslie.'

The men, eager to discuss their topic further, remained silent in Leslie's presence.

'I'm fine, thanks for asking.'

'Oh yeah, you went to see the doctor,' Leonard said, checking his watch. 'You're late. Did she run many tests?'

Leslie shrugged. 'Ramona said she'll carry her bag with her all the time in case Randall comes for her. Any day now. What did I hear you mention about Penny?'

'Penny's rescue of Leonard is the talk of town! That's a nice drawing Michael made,' Raj said as he made a show of checking his friend's plastered leg. 'I like the line too: No bow? No gun? Use a tree!'

'I hadn't seen that!' Leonard said as he stretched his neck to have a look.

'It's convenient that you have a couch on the ground floor,' Raj told Leslie, indicating the bedding in a corner of the room.

'It will be crowded here, should I have to stay downstairs too. I'm sure the baby's crying will speed Leonard's recovery,' Leslie good humouredly said.

'I'll use a bottle to pee in then,' Leonard attempted to joke. Looking at Raj he seriously added: 'But it will be fine I'm sure.'

Raj swallowed hard. 'Yes, I guess.'

Raj greeted his friends and left. Leonard focused on his bow. 'I really like doing this,' he said by way of distracting Leslie.

'Something funny happened on the way to the forum.'

'Oh?'

'I saw Howard, Tom and Penny leave in full scavenging gear.'

'So they're scavenging again,' Leonard said with a shrug as if he didn't think the topic worth mentioning. 'They'll need more stuff to hand to the robbers.'

'Might be, but why would they endanger themselves by going to the mall?'

'Are you sure?'

'I asked the guard at the gate where the threesome was heading to. Are they trying the zombie cloak again?'

Leonard focussed on his bow.

'It proved inadequate. Is everything all right?'

'Couldn't be better.' Leonard let his fingers slide over the bow's emerging curves. 'We are fortunate Leslie.'

Leslie was about to make a witty remark when she saw her brother-in-law's expression. He looked peaceful yet his eyes were glancing suspiciously. Leslie decided to quite the wit, but she still wanted to question Leonard about what Penny was doing. Baby Winkle kicked her though and while resting her hand on her belly, Leslie merely said: 'Absofuckinglutely.'

OoOoO

Tom was securing fences around an emergency entrance of the mall that, according to a floor plan Sheldon had memorized, let to a small hall. Howard guarded him but he'd parked the pick-up in such a way that atop of it he could watch both Tom and Penny. Through the visor of his rifle he saw Tom attach a fence to a rain-pipe. The corporal looked up and around every fifteen seconds. Howard shifted his gaze to Penny, who was talking or possibly singing to the zombies. Those who saw her ignored her from the start and those who had their backs at her came a bit closer but lost interest after a few feet already. Tom carried the second fence to its spot. Penny took some bites of an apple. The zombies didn't care. Tom looked up at Howard's warning whistle and indicated that he would handle an approaching zombie himself. Penny pressed herself against the poles. Not a single zombie took an interest. Penny shone a zombie in the eyes with a powerful flashlight. The creature wasn't angered. Penny put her hand through the fence and no walking corpses came to feast on the offered meat.

Some five minutes later Penny walked to the back of the mall. Howard parked the car at the newly created gate. 'It looks like I'm safe to go,' Penny said . 'My stomach rumbled like crazy and they didn't act on it. I yawned, I sneezed, I even cut myself and the blood was nothing to them. I wasn't able to knife one though.'

'Is it some cologne you came up with?' Tom asked. He'd witnessed Penny's first encounter with the zombies.

'We can't really say anything about that,' Howard said.

Other people might have felt insulted by this answer but Tom merely nodded. When Penny stepped inside the U-shaped fence and asked to be locked in, Tom made eye-contact with Howard.

'She's going in,' Howard said as confidently as he could master. Seeing Tom hesitate, he closed the fence himself.

Penny stepped on the small slope that was meant to allow fleeing customers to easily exit the building. She started working on the door's lock. Ever since she'd suggested to go into the mall she looked calm and collected but Howard couldn't imagine that she felt no anxiety. Despite the chilly weather he was sweating.

'Are you sure Penny?'

His friend looked over her shoulder and nodded once. 'I'm opening the door. Ready?'

Howard readied his hand-bow, feeling murderous toward anything that might prove their theory wrong and hurt Penny.

A zombie fell face down on the slope. It got to its feet, found Penny in its way and shuffled past her to the men behind the gate. Penny stabbed its skull. No other zombies emerged.

'If there happen to be comic books I'll bring you one for Yule,' Penny said.

Howard nervously smiled. Penny grinned at him, entered the mall and closed the door behind her.

Give me one hour, Penny had said at the farm. One hour and I'll be back. If not then I'm brunch.

Chapter Text

Once inside the mall Penny's grin disappeared and she was hit by a wave of doubt.

Don't be silly, she told herself. You'll have to face Pete soon. There's no time to run more zombie tests when you have people to protect. You are the zombie queen. Go shopping woman!

Using the light from her head-torch she looked around. The small hall had served as a locker room and office of sorts and as a hiding place for the zombie she'd just killed. The man he used to be couldn't have survived for a long time judging by the eight empty cans of beans and corn, a handful of candy wraps and a mere five bottles of water. Had he been too afraid to leave through the emergency exit? Had he thought that the outbreak would blow over soon enough? From the stories of survivors that Cynthia had noted down Penny knew that people had done many strange things when the panic hit.

Penny made it to the indoor emergency door that stood slightly ajar. A table loaded with boxes of paper as well as the end of a fire hose wrapped around the door handle had prevented it from being opened fully. Without allowing herself to think things over Penny removed the obstacles and stepped into the actual mall. The noise she'd made had gathered a small audience, but it didn't act on seeing her. Penny took a cobble from a pocket and threw it away. As it hit the floor most zombies left. Penny wasn't sorry to see them go. She took a moment to observe the sight in front of her and to calm down. Zombie queen, zombie queen, she told herself. The abandoned shopping carts that would never be rolled to the check-out and the tires from the car department that had somehow ended up here were like the dramatic score to a film. Penny willed sorrow to replace her anxiety. She closed the door and walked into the mall. Glass from a destroyed showcase crushed under her boots. Several zombies briefly focused on her and lost interest, like Borg on the Enterprise spotting unarmed crewmembers.

There was enough light coming if through the sky-lights to switch off her torch. Penny pulled out Sheldon's floor plan and her shopping list and went to the camping department. Blocking her path was an abandoned cart that held several decorative pillows. What would make someone purchase those when there were zombies around was beyond her. She removed most pillows and pushed the cart to a rack with huge back-packs. She placed three of those in her cart. In the nearby weapons section many racks were empty, but there was enough left and at a glance she saw that most rifles were still under lock and key. The isle containing protective gear had barely been touched and Penny started loading. A zombie passed by. Not finding anything to its liking it walked on, dragging its bowels along. Penny felt an itch at her shin, just as her head always started itching when someone spoke of lice. When the back-packs were close to bursting and the rest of the cart was filled also she checked her watch. To her surprise over half an hour had passed by already and rather than continuing to shop she made it for the exit, knowing that Howard and Tom must be worried.

OoOoO

'What's up Sheldon?'

Sheldon looked up from the workbench. 'Hello Wyatt.'

'I heard you guys and Pen were meeting about the travellers during breakfast?'

Sheldon gave it a thought and replied affirmatively. He hoped Wyatt wouldn't question him any further.

'Ready to get rid of Pete and Hank?'

'We are well prepared yet we won't know if we are ready to defeat them until after the upcoming confrontation.'

'Sure. See you later Sheldon.'

Sheldon mumbled a greeting. Before continuing his task he closed his eyes the better to transport yet another telepathic message to Penny.

OoOoo

After carefully closing the door to the actual mall behind her, Penny parked the shopping cart near the outdoor emergency exit. She knocked to alert Howard, opened the door and rolled down the cart. The relief and admiration on Howard's face made her want to cry. She briefly told her friend what was in the backpacks and before Howard could reply she went back inside.

OoOoO

'Look, they're returning,' Duane observed.

Several people at the construction site turned to look at the approaching pick-up.

'They are up to something, I'll tell you,' Duane said.

'You think so, Einstein?' Caleb replied.

'Seems like there's only a driver in it,' John remarked.

'It's a shame they didn't spent their night away at the church: Sharon's there and she would have been able to find out what's going on,' Alonso said.

'Come on people, we have a wall to finish!'

'Not today we don't,' Duane mumbled, but like the others he continued to work, or, as he thought of it: to grow muscles.

OoOoO

After wheeling her eighth load of goods out Penny was about to take the empty cart from the previous run with her into the mall, but Howard prevented her from going straight back in by pushing a bottle of water into her hands, as well as a sandwich.

'I drank the previous time,' Penny said. And I'm not hungry. Still no word from the tower or the CDL?'

'None: all seems quiet. Now drink and eat.'

Penny removed her nose clip and did Howard's bidding. In between sips and bites she commented the contents of the boxes that Howard moved to the pick-up.

'I'll repeat myself: you already got us what we came here for. All this is very useful, but if you want to quit, that's fine Penny. The storage room as well as most of Raj's room are loaded already,' Howard said as he got sleeping bags from the cart. 'And look: the trunk is nearly full as it is.'

'If you want to return to help the guys, that's fine. Tom can lock himself in the car and –'

'I'm staying here,' Howard interrupted. 'Sheldon wheeled Leonard to the outdoor lab. They won't need me.'

Penny nodded. 'As long as it's still light, I'll keep on going.'

Howard didn't return his friend's fake smile. Penny handed Howard her bottle and made it for the door.

'What do you call a Jewish knight?'

Penny turned around, a quizzical look on her face.

'Sir Cumsical.'

Penny's features relaxed.

Three trips later on Penny took more time than usual between deliveries. Howard had just decided that if she still hadn't returned by the time Tom was back, he'd use the mall-zombie's shirt covered in the mall-zombie's bowels to make a cloak and enter the mall, when the door finally opened and a loaded cart was pushed outside.

'Sorry it took so long. There were some offices near the DIY and garden section. People lived there for a while,' Penny said. She handed Howard a notebook that lay on top of some boxes with rain-boots. 'This is for Cynthia.'

Howard looked at the stained cover marked "survivor's journal" and feared it would make for a hard read. He wasn't sure Penny had paged through the history, but what she had seen near the DIY section was written on her face.

'You're at a Jewish wedding. How can you tell it's orthodox, reform or liberal?' Howard asked while bringing the shoe boxes to the pick-up. Penny shrugged.

'If the bride's mother is pregnant, it's orthodox. If the bride's pregnant it's reform and if the rabbi's pregnant it's liberal.'

Penny's faint smile didn't reach her eyes. She was already pushing the waiting empty card up the slope when Howard quickly said: 'Do you know the one about Sally Goldstein who was granted three wishes?'

OoOoO

Raj was in the stables, inventorying the third load of goods Tom had brought. 'This box contains tooth-brushes,' he told Rachel who was one of the people carrying the goods upstairs to his room. 'It's not heavy.'

'Are you done with that bag? I can carry that along.'

Raj nodded and quickly finished going through the bag. Rachel had only just left when Wyatt entered the stables. 'I'm returning form the land,' the farmer angrily said, 'and I find everyone talking about Santa being early this year?'

Wyatt looked at brand new rolls of barbed wire and shining saws and then focused on the boxes at Raj's feet. He opened one and exclaimed: 'Bloody greeting cards! I heard a shitload of stuff was brought to the outdoor lab too. Where did the scavengers get it?'

'A lot of these goods will help us fight Pete and Hank,' Raj calmly said, thinking that before the apocalypse he would have peeped a reply.

'Where!?'

'At the mall.'

Wyatt cursed. 'The zombie invested mall. That mall?'

'Yes. But all is well at the mall.'

'Right!'

OoOoO

Penny manoeuvred her cart around a zombie she'd named Sid, for despite having legs it hadn't moved from its seat on the floor since she'd first spotted it. Sheldon and Leslie had set up theories about why some zombies were more active than others, but Penny, knowing that in the end all zombies were biters, hadn't paid attention to their ideas.

She knew that zombies were dangerous still, if not to herself right now, but after spending hours at the mall and especially after an encounter she'd just had she'd gotten the odd feeling that these mall zombies were hers to protect.

'This was the last run,' she informed Howard while carefully eying her heavy cart. 'It's getting dark. Guess what I saw?'

'Tell me honey.'

'Dad!'

'What the fuck Pen?'

Back to the real world zombie queen, Penny told herself.

OoOoO

'Welcome everyone,' Wyatt said. 'We only just had a meeting, but something's up.'

'Loads of stuff are up!' Duane cried out at which Wyatt gave him a dark look. Those who'd wanted to cheer after Duane's exclamation remained silent.

'A lot of goods were taken from the mall yesterday and today. Don't ask me how they did it, it's science stuff and far beyond me. The thing is: it wasn't done to make sure we'd all have a merry Yule. Most of you will have understood by now that there might be trouble ahead. Those who went to negotiate with Martha and Camilla's former group, feel that two men from that group are dangerous robbers. And these two men are in touch with other men who don't trade but take.'

People looked at Martha and Camilla, who paled.

'We gained among others protective gear and fire-arms for we believe they'll attack us.'

'I won't have that!' Caroline cried out.

The idea of the elderly lady battling villains made the tension that had filled the room after Wyatt's last line reduce a bit.

'Go Mrs N!' Duane said to make up for his earlier remark.

Wyatt was surprised to see how people relaxed at that. He didn't doubt that they were in danger and he knew that the team assigned to house zero and the tower and especially those who'd travel to meet Pete and Hank, were risking their lives. The laughing faces he saw around him angered him at first, but then he reasoned that it might be for the best if people didn't worry too much. Once the alarm was raised, they'd know what to do: they'd proven that during the emergency drill.

'At the moment we're being protected by those who will, after being relieved, sleep in house zero to prepare for the arrival of the men I mentioned. Tomorrow we will stay within the walls until the threat is dealt with,' Wyatt added as if he were announcing the weather forecast.

Martha raised her hand. 'And if it isn't?'

'Then they might find us. They will have to fight a wall and those on it.'

The tension returned. Caroline turned in her seat to pat Martha's knee. 'You don't know us that well yet, but Tom can shoot a wing of a fly from a thousand feet away, Penny is tough as a nail and her friends, well, they are so smart, no one can beat them.'

Leslie was tired and very worried but she forced herself to cheerfully cry out: 'Hear, hear!'

Amid the general merriment Wyatt and his daughter-in-law shared a meaningful glance.

OoOoO

Penny climbed up the church's tower where Tom watched the road via his night sight sharpshooter's weapon.

'I like it here,' the corporal said. For a moment Penny pictured them being in Jane Austen's England.

'The stars are beautiful. And it's nice and quiet,' Penny agreed, while dropping her overnight bag on the floor. And there aren't any zombies up here, she thought. Zombies I once knew. Zombies whose last weeks were hell.

Tom was silent for a moment. 'I recall when I first saw your fortress. I thought: either these are military men or they are very well prepared American nutters. I never told anyone, but I could have sang when finding sane people behind that magnificent wall.'

'Me too.'

'I've been thinking about what you've asked. Howard could do it. Randall. Missy. Sharon. Neill. You of course. Leslie. Leo. And there's your father, but he has the farm. And Sheldon, but I can't picture him away from civilisation. And I can do it. In future I think Sarah N can handle it too.'

Penny smirked. 'The people from Greeneville could do it too, but we have the half a year rule. Thanks Tom. Any of the Torsviks who might be suitable?'

'Bert. Marit. Lars. Hans. Astrid. When do you want to start?'

'A.s.a.p. I want these buildings claimed as ours. Give me a shout at 0500, I'll relieve you of duty then.'

At the change of guard Tom noticed the imprint of a strap on Penny's chin and when he settled himself on the landing, he could make out the shape of a helmet in Penny's bag. There'd be a fight of sorts, of that he was sure. He relied on his abilities as a soldier and he knew that the people he'd work with were capable enough. His commander he'd trust with his life. She'd get them through. Tom yawned and fell soundly asleep.

OoOoO

For this book all members of the Helsing based communities were being interviewed, sometimes alone, sometimes in a group. There were three questions everyone who'd joined the community before the first Fair & Games (2014) answered. Rather than give each question its separate chapter and thereby possibly lessening the impact of the experiences that were shared, the questions are grouped in chapters 'b' and answered by different people per question.

Q – How did you experience the ZO?

I often wake up from a nightmare about zombies only to realize that they are for real, says Margrethe Torsvik (born in 1988). We had a world with electricity and films and shops and fashion and travel and internet and hot showers and then we had nothing. My cousin Olav and his wife Amanda had a son last year and I keep thinking how he will grow up. For Kristian this world is normal. For my nephew Frederik, who's four now, it will be normal too. For me it's a downfall. I used to be a model and a hostess. My twin Astrid was a blacksmith and still is and frankly I'm jealous of her. The ZO deprived me of my jobs and the skills I had are useless here. Zombies scare me, so I barely leave the grounds. I help out in the orchard and I hate it. I really do. I pluck apples and pears and tend to the trees and I just know that that's what I'll do for the rest of my life. That and helping in the kitchen and cleaning. I wish dad and uncle Trond would listen to aunt Marit and start making a safe route to the Drottning farm. The children can go to school full-time then and we adults can enjoy what civilization is left and the men there aren't related to me. (extract of written statement, 2012-7)

Q – What do you remember about the time before the ZO?

When I was little, says Haakon Torsvik (born in 2004), we lived in Boy's Town. We had a big TV and a bath. And I could play in the playground, which had a swing and many other fun things and there wouldn't be zombies trying to eat you. Mummy was still with us then. She would take me to the swimming pool, that's a huge, huge bath, and it gets to be so deep you can't stand anymore. There were no zombies there either. There were many cars too. Not in the pool but on the roads. And there were many people everywhere. And on Monday I went to judo classes after school. [What did you want to be when you were big?] Wolverine or Teddy Riner. [Who are they?] Wolverine is a mutant and Teddy Riner is a judoka. My sensei Gerard said he's going to be the best of the world. (interview CB, 2013-10)

Q – Can you tell me about your journey here?

It sucked, says Leslie Winkle (born in 1977). I'd given my sister instructions: she was to go to a remote holiday cabin I'd rented and she was to bring a list of goods. [I ask her why she'd instructed her sister.] Back before it started Leonard Hofstadter and I were dating. He told me about the zombie threat and of course I laughed in his face. He kept insisting though and I figured it wouldn't hurt to visit Leonard's flat and learn more. I still thought he was pulling me a prank but it would be laughably easy to get even with him. The guys provided their evidence and Penny, Leonard's neighbour who seemed like a no-nonsense country girl, was in their team, and more importantly that whack-a-doodle Sheldon didn't have any of the facial tics that reveal he's lying: I got convinced that their fears were justified. Leonard offered that I'd travel with them, but I wanted to go north first to get my sister, who lived near Helena, Montana. So I went there by plane and I arrived at my sister's hide out on 11 July. I ordered plane tickets for Sioux City, thinking it would be less crowded than Omaha, but of course the next day all air travel was forbidden. We set off for Nebraska and with Livia's moped being stolen after a week, and the two of us held captive for a while by some beasts, it took us seven months to reach our destination. I don't plan on leaving. (interview CB, 2012,3)

From chapter 1b 'Three questions' in The histories of the people of Drottningville, as recorded by Cynthia Böhr, first edition April 2025 CE

Author's note: The source of Howard's jokes is a word in your eye dot com.

Chapter Text

‘It’s October twenty. That’s the day after October nineteen,’ Sansa stated.

‘Really?’ Camilla asked.

‘Where is Miss Livia?’ John asked.

‘She didn’t feel very well and she asked me to sit with you until she felt better.’

‘Can we have the morning off?’ Steven asked.

‘No you can’t.’

‘What will you teach us?’

‘Will you tell us a story?’ Sansa begged.

‘Yeah! With a bear or a wolf!’ John said.

‘The three bears, the three bears!’ the children cried out.

Camilla searched her brain. What was that story about? What did the bears do and what would Pete and Hank do?

‘Don’t you like wolfs better? I know I do,’ she tried.

‘Wolfs, wolfs, wolfs!’

Will they let Caroline live if they come out triumphant? Camilla thought. Will they hurt Sansa and the two Sarahs? What will they do to Martha and me?

‘With big teeth! Rrraaawww!’

‘Mr Wolowitz is much better at that Johnny.’

‘I will be too when I have a beard!’

John’s remark combined with his expression as well as her own anxiety made Camilla laugh so hard she fell of her chair. The children were silenced for a moment, but when their replacement teacher continued to laugh, they started giggling.

‘My, aren’t you having fun!’ Livia observed on entering the room.

The children told their teacher that miss Camilla was about to tell them a story. And could she please, please still do that? Camilla nodded reassuringly at Livia who looked at her worriedly.

‘All right. But after that we’ll work on the name tags.’

The children nodded. Sansa claimed to make miss Camilla’s name tag and the boys challenged her. Livia raised her eyebrows at them and they fell silent. ‘Once upon a time…’ Camilla started.

OoOoO

If Howard hadn’t known better, he would have believed that Penny was genuinely disappointed to learn that Pete and Hank had left to go scavenging, taking Marlene with them.

‘What about Nigella and Bill?’ Penny inquired.

‘”Asleep” in their RV. They told Pete to tell us that they didn’t want to be interrupted, if you know what I mean,’ Moses said.

Henry, who stood nearby, smiled at this reminder of his sister’s happy marriage and Howard, who’d thought it strange that Bill and Nigella wouldn’t care to greet them, felt reassured by this.

Moses went through the list Howard had handed him. He commented the goods they’d brought in exchange for the RV but he agreed with every replacement for the items they couldn’t deliver. It didn’t take longer than five minutes before the deals were sealed. Penny handed Rose’s giant of a brother Mitch, who’d said he’d worked with chicken, a short manual on how to take care of the six animals they’d brought. Mitch sheepishly thanked her.

‘I appreciate that you want to be on your way and my son and I like to return well before it gets dark. As you’ll remember Pete wants us to leave this place today. Therefore I already checked the RV. It’s in very good shape, George always took care of that.’

‘Oh well, I’d –‘

‘I’d be insulted if you re-checked,’ Moses interrupted Howard.

Penny and Howard shared a glance.

‘Well,’ Howard said, ‘On our way here we travelled the same road as the last time but we spotted a herd of zombies at a distance and we’d rather take another – longer – route on the way back. You’re right Moses. We shouldn’t waste time.’

OoOoO

The road ahead was empty.

‘Such a beautiful day to take a tour,’ Howard said. ‘And with just the two of us we can sing at our hearts’ desire.’

Penny, knowing that Howard wasn’t as gay as he pretended to be, looked behind her. The jeep driven by David, Moses’s son, rounded the corner they’d just taken. She waved at him and he returned the gesture.

‘The RV should have appeared now,’ Penny said after a few moments.

‘How many people did you count?’

‘Apart from Pete, Hank, Marlene, Bill and Nigella everyone was present. Children as well.’

‘So we’ll have to fight five at most,’ Howard said, checking the mirror. ‘Oh look, there’s the RV.’

‘I doubt Bill and Nigella will fight us. I’m more worried about Pete’s likeminded friends.’

‘Nothing we can’t handle,’ Howard confidently said. He softly started singing Both sides now but he let the song die away halfway.

OoOoO

Missy awaited the train of cars at the home-made stop sign.

‘No one’s following the RV,’ she told Penny and Howard, having gotten this piece of intelligence from Tom. Howard got out and walked to the parking lot. The second jeep obediently stopped next to Missy too.

‘Hi, I’m Melissa Cooper.’

‘Pleased to meet you. I’m David Collins.’

‘Had a good journey?’

‘Yes, all went well.’

‘Great, could you park in front of the building please?’

‘Sure.’

After inclining his head by way of a greeting David was off. Missy braced herself for any danger coming from the RV. Its driver smiled at her but his eyes remained cold.

‘Hello, I’m Melissa. Could you park the RV on the parking lot next to the police station? We stored some tires there but there’s room left. Howard will guide you.’

The driver nodded. As the RV turned left, Missy looked up at the tower, where she knew Tom to be. She looked at the conifers next to the parking lot where Leo stood hidden. Seeing movement from the corner of her eye she turned her gaze to find Sharon, supposedly busying herself with a laundry rack, waving at Randall who was welcoming David. Moses got out of the RV, unaware that three good shots were following his every move. Talking amiably Howard walked Moses to house zero.

Nothing happened. Missy, wearing a brand new Kevlar vest underneath her clothes, felt as if an exciting scene in a film was interrupted by a commercial. A zombie shuffled toward her. She used her hand-bow to finish it but this normally satisfying deed barely made her feel less tense.

OoOoO

‘I’m so glad the RV arrived safely,’ Penny said with a grateful smile. ‘Want a drink, something to eat?’

‘I can make you a snack,’ Raj offered.

‘We have to leave straight away,’ Moses said.

‘Are you sure?’ Howard asked. ‘I hoped you could meet our boss. He and most others are in the fields now but - ’

‘Give him my regards,’ Moses interrupted. ‘We really have to go.’

Moses addressed his son: ‘Or we will have to track the group again, like the last time.’

David nodded. ‘Took us a while to find them then.’

‘Those are our remaining goods?’ Moses asked, gesturing at the boxes in the hall.

‘All yours,’ Howard said.

Sharon’s sweet alt drifted downstairs as she sang a lullaby.

‘How many people do you have here right now?’

‘Just the six of us Moses, children excluded: they are having a nap.’

‘You’ve got a great place here,’ David said as he picked up a box.

‘Thank you,’ Penny said. She bent over to get another box and Randall offered a hand as well.

‘I’ll attach this lucky charm to the RV,’ Moses announced as he held up a ribbon with a little bell attached to it, ‘and then we’ll leave.’

When his father was out of hearing range David said that his old man was superstitious.

‘Nothing wrong with that,’ Penny said. David, so she noticed, was relaxed. He chatted along while carrying boxes and he even flirted with Missy. What if, she thought, he was the brain behind Pete and Hank?

As they waited near the jeep for Moses to return, Randall wondered aloud who would be so lucky as to live in the RV.

‘Getting crowded in the building huh?’ David guessed.

Raj joined them, and handed David four apples Penny had gathered from the referend’s garden. ‘Here you are, for on the road.’

‘Thanks!’

‘From what I could see of that RV it’s great!’ Raj said.

David grinned. ‘I guess you’ll have competition,’ he told Randall.

‘Get in David. Let’s go,’ Moses cried out from a short distance.

Penny used two arrows to shoot a zombie that was coming from the park.

‘I’ll take the wheel,’ Moses told his son who was walking over to the driver’s side. David obediently seated himself in the passenger seat and his father got in as well.

Penny bent over next to Moses, who was checking his watch.

‘Thank you for bringing the RV here. And for the charm. We can always use good luck. Could you please give my regards to your people and especially to Bill, Nigella and Letitia?’

‘I will. Goodbye.’

‘Uhm?’

David followed Penny’s gaze to his father’s right hand.

‘Dad: the keys!’

‘Oh yeah.’

After handing Penny the keys to the RV, Moses slowly took off. His son waved at Penny and the others. The four of them followed the car until they reached the parking lot. Howard went ahead to get their toys from underneath the conifers. Penny remained on the road to wave at the car that speedily moved away. For a moment she thought that all the preparations they’d made were overdone. Perhaps the whole point of bringing the RV here had been to get to know their location in case they ever needed a doctor or a dentist.

‘But that isn’t bloody likely, now is it?’ she whispered.

OoOoO

Martha and Duane had brought plates and cutlery to the meeting room where they’d set up the buffet. Martha had planned to question the boy but while he talked freely all Martha had learned so far was that since he’d become a young adult at turning fifteen he felt there was a gap between him and his younger buddies Alex and Michael. At least the boy’s chatting was distracting. It wasn’t until they’d almost reached the kitchen again that Martha managed to sneak in a question.

‘How I got here? Miss Penny found us. Us being aunt Maud and uncle Alonso and Sansa,’ Duane said as he opened the kitchen door. ‘We’ve lived here for as long as she has. Anything I can do ladies?’

‘You could cut the leek,’ Cynthia replied.

‘Those carrots need to be cleaned?’ Martha asked. On Cynthia’s affirmative nod, she set to work, after taking Duane’s cue and washing her hands again. Caroline, having finished cleaning potatoes came to help her.

‘Have you been here for a long time?’ Martha asked.

‘My James and I lived in the house across the road. When the zombies came, Wyatt showed up at our doorstep and invited us to come with him. I told James to get Sarah and Alex, who happened to stay with us, I got Cyril, the cat, and the emergency bags I’d secretly packed – ‘

‘You packed bags Mrs N?’ Duane asked.

‘When a normally sane man like Wyatt starts building a wall round part of his property, I think something’s up pumpkin. I may be old, I’m not senile.’

Duane laughed. ‘Cool!’

‘Did anyone ever leave the safety of the wall?’ Martha asked.

‘We had some people here three years ago who stayed for a night and left the next day for they didn’t like our rules.’

‘Rather they didn’t want rules at all. They now live in the Wise settlement,’ Cynthia said.

‘No rules there?’ Martha asked in a small voice. There hadn’t been many rules at the travellers’ community except for “Obey Pete and Hank”.

‘Dan Wise went to school with my eldest son. He’s a good lad, but he can’t stand authority. Our scavengers drop by there once in a while. There’re sixteen people living there now, four children among them. Somehow they make it through.’

‘Only because Penny supports them,’ Cynthia said.

‘No one was made to leave this farm?’ Martha urged.

‘There was Mr Chip. He ruined things and he got kicked out,’ Duane said.

‘So sad,’ Caroline commented.

‘Why?’ Martha asked. ‘Didn’t he deserve getting kicked out?’

‘Oh he did! He was an aggressive manipulator and a thief,’ Caroline said. ‘But still, I kept hoping he’d find his way.’

‘Oh you,’ Cynthia affectionately said.

‘That’s it? No one else was sent away?’ Camilla asked.

‘Well, Bert left,’ Caroline said, ’but that’s because he fell in love with Debra who lives at the Torsvik farm.’

‘If I’d been him I would have persuaded her to come over here,’ Duane commented.

‘Maybe she didn’t want to?’ Martha suggested, anxious to learn there might be another reason why this Bert had left. She had a room with a lock on the inside: it was paradise but would there be a catch? And would a simple lock protect her from Pe-. Stop thinking about that, she told herself.

‘Debra likes it at the Torsvik place. Bert still comes here once a week: he’s one of the people bringing the children to school.’

Caroline sighed deeply. Those who’d known her longer expected her to speak of her James, but she said: ‘Oh I wish someone would bring us some news.’

OoOoO

Moses’s lucky charm didn’t hung at the door but underneath a window that stood slightly ajar. Howard pointed it out to Penny. She raised her eyebrows and gestured at her bag, all the while chatting about how exciting it was to have the RV and that she wanted to go in. Howard made a reassuring gesture. ‘Don’t you think we ought to wait for the boss to return before we have a look inside the RV?’ he loudly said.

‘Oh common. It’s ours now and I want to see it,’ Penny whined.

‘All right,’ Howard said with a resigning sigh.

Penny looked around to see if her team was ready. She then put her new mask in place, unlocked the RV’s door, set it ajar, and threw in a tear gas grenade.

Chapter Text

Penny slammed the door shut, turned the key and took cover behind some piles of tires where Howard, also masked, kept her company. They heard cursing, cries of pain and a sound as if a door was violently opened. A bang on the exit door. Cursing. Wailing. Screaming. Another bang. Another wail. Several shots. The exit door was thrown open and Pete stumbled out. Clutching his eyes he bent over and threw up.

His brother didn’t emerge and the sounds coming from the RV didn’t make his appearance likely. Penny feared that the zombie that was obviously inside was Nigella or Bill. She nodded at Howard and the two of them rose. Pete was coughing his longs out and his shirt was turning red at the waist. Before Pete knew what happened to him, Howard had tied his hands behind his back. The man was in no condition to fight, but Howard took no risks and he walked some twenty feet away from him.

Penny entered the RV and saw a ginger haired male zombie that was relishing Hank’s meat. Hank no longer made a sound and he didn’t move either. The zombie briefly looked up at Penny closing the door and then continued to eat. Penny went through the RV and to her relief there were neither zombies nor men. A double bed had a huge blood stain on its mattress and some other stains as well.

OoOoO

When after a few minutes Pete stopped coughing, Howard removed his mask.

‘Where are you?’ Pete demanded with difficulty. ‘Let me fight you! You fucking bitch!’

‘Someone watched Kill Bill. Great film.’

Pete looked up and Howard silently moved closer. Pete, his eyes still tearing, focused on the spot from where he’d heard Howard’s voice.

‘Come close if you dare,’ Pete said, ‘and I’ll kill you.’

Howard remained silent. Pete spat toward where Howard used to stand. Some blood came along.

OoOoO

Lydia placed her hand on Wyatt’s leg to alert him. Wyatt looked up from a book he wasn’t reading to see Daniel approach. The guard looked as if he had something of importance to communicate.

‘Robin just came in,’ he announced when he’d reached the sitting area.

Lydia looked at Wyatt for an explanation.

‘Pigeon,’ her partner softly said.

‘And he brought the best of news,’ Daniel said with a bright smile but without elaborating.

‘So they’re all right?’ Wyatt guessed after a moment of silence.

‘Yes sir!’

‘Great!’

 Lydia smiled. ‘Told you so.’

‘What happened? Was there an attack? What about the RV?’

‘Robin’s message didn’t say that. I hope the vehicle’s all right sir. It would be great if I’m the lucky one to live in it.’

Lydia smiled at Daniel. ‘Will they be back now?’ she asked.

Wyatt shook his head. ‘They’ll spend the night there, just in case.’

When Daniel had returned to duty, Lydia asked Wyatt whether the new RV would be Daniel and Melody’s home. Wyatt shrugged. Lydia then wondered aloud that since all was well, it might be best for Randall to return home. ‘With Leslie giving birth any moment now…’

Wyatt grinned. ‘The way she gives birth, he might be working in the garage and still be too late to see the child being born.’

OoOoO

‘Seems a bit overdone staying here,’ Sharon said. She and Missy were taking the first sleep shift. ‘I know it isn’t, but after how smoothly things went… You know.’

‘I’m glad for the zombie in the RV,’ Missy said. ‘Both men would have been captured and - ’

‘Killed,’ Sharon interrupted.

‘We don’t do that and you know that. They’d be captured and dropped somewhere with water, food and a bat.’

‘A creep like Pete is likely to survive that and return with a thirst for revenge.’

Missy yawned. ‘Yeah. One eaten and one bitten is better for us.’

It was silent for a moment.

‘I’m looking forward to the fair,’ Sharon changed the topic.

‘So am I.’

‘I hope there’ll be nice men coming along. I like the idea of extending the wall, but I’d expected Penny would have chosen to secure the road to the Torsvik farm first,’ Sharon said meaningfully.

‘There are only five single men there, and one’s over sixty.’

‘You talk like a married woman! To me you just mentioned four reasons to walk over there. I’m glad Melody ended up with my brother. He’s not in my marriage pool and I’ve got one competitor less.’

Missy laughed at Sharon’s straightforwardness.

‘Did you know that Daniel and dad suggested that I’d share a room with our Sarah so the boys could have Rebecca’s room and Daniel and Melody could live in the boys’ room? Fortunately Melody said no. She was really pissed at Daniel. You think Tom and Maud are an item?’

‘What? No, I don’t.’ Despite being tired Missy added: ‘Why, are you interested in Tom?’

‘Hello! With the British accent and all! But I flirted with him: nothing. I think he lives like a monk. You think he’s gay?’

‘No way.’

Sharon giggled. Missy drifted away and heard nothing of Sharon’s comments about Alonso and the under-sixty Torsvik men.

OoOoO

Penny and Howard quietly sat near Pete, who’d been carried to house zero’s hall. With intervals that grew increasingly longer he would moan a bit. Penny wondered where and when the man thought he was.

‘What are you hoping for?’ Howard whispered.

‘For him to die and turn, just like Hank did.’

Howard made a throatily sound of agreement. After a while he casually said: ‘When you came out, when Wyatt was there, you’d seen something.’

‘I found some hand puppets,’ Penny said, shaking her head at the recollection. ‘I put Judy on my left hand and retold your joke about the frog and the three wishes. I used your mum’s voice for Sally.’

Howard smiled broadly.

‘No,’ Penny said after a quick glance at her friend. ‘It was silly. What was I thinking? What if they’d… Obviously they didn’t. Attack me.’

‘Why would they do that? Did you forget the clue?’

 Penny smirked. ‘I was halfway the first wish when I noticed a child-zombie. It stared at the puppet as if… as if it recalled puppet shows. I stopped talking immediately and put Judy in the cart. The little zombie followed me for a while.’

Penny didn’t say that she’d briefly felt the urge to take the zombie-child by the hand. Tossing it a cuddle had been enough to stop it from stalking her.

‘That must have been… alienating.’

Pete spasmed.

‘If this bastard doesn’t die,’ Howard said, ‘we’ll have to deal with a dangerous man.’

‘Sheldon thinks it might be x-chrome related.’

‘What if one is enough? What if he attempts to attack us?’

Penny shrugged. ‘I doubt that he won’t turn.’

‘You’re like Buffy waiting near a new grave.’

‘Indeed Giles. Except I’ll skip the fancy kicks.’

‘Thank you milady.’

‘What for good sir?’

‘Not styling me Xander.’

‘I liked Xander. He was witty and down-to-earth.’

‘That he was.’

Pete’s body started to shiver. Penny drew her screw-driver.

‘You don’t need a Giles Penelope,’ Howard softly said.

‘We all need one.’

OoOoO

 

In August 2010 Wyatt Drottning had a look at the set of rules Sheldon had sent him:

‘The rules they’d sent us from Pasadena were written in lawyer language and not everything was unclear, but a lot of it was. Cynthia had a university degree and she translated the rules for us. She agreed with Sheldon’s accompanying letter about executing the rules straight from the start. My wife was keen to have the non-smoking rule installed and I was okay with that. I mean: it wouldn’t take long before we’d run out of cigarettes anyway. Only people guarding carrying guns: sure. People having to work, well that was logical, I mean we didn’t run a hotel but using schedules seemed overdone, so we skipped that and much more.’ (interview MC, 2011-11b)

‘After Tom’s arrival [in October 2010, CB] some more rules were installed,’ says Melissa (Missy) Cooper. ‘24/7 guarding and food rationing. In December my twin and his friends arrived, and soon all of their rules were being executed. I feel that we became a real community then. The thing is that when you have rules, people are going to break them.’ (interview CB, 2011-3)

The charter set up by Sheldon Cooper, Rajesh Koothrappali, Howard Wolowitz, Leonard Hofstadter and Penelope Drottning consisted of nine pages.

‘When I tell strangers about our rules I give a summary,’ says Howard. ‘It’s basically what people were used to, with some extra stuff. No killing, raping, stealing, hurting, bullying. Work for your living, in designated jobs. No weapons. No smoking, no drinking, no loud noises. No religion in public, no profitmaking. Mandatory education.’ (interview CB, 2011-12)

‘Back in Pasadena we talked about what to do if people were to break rules,’ recalls Penny. ‘We didn’t want to jail them, for several reasons: We would have to spend resources on making a jail. Those jailed wouldn’t be able to contribute to the community. And last but not least: my brother spent time in jail, for drunken driving, speeding, dealing meth, and it never improved him. In fact he was persuaded to get involved in drugs by a fellow jail-bird. So no jail.’ (interview CB, 2011-5)

‘Penny suggested a jury, but I convinced her that that wouldn’t do,’ says Sheldon Cooper. ‘When you break your arm, you’re not going to have it set by a layman, so why rely on laymen when it comes to something as important as law and order?’ (interview CB, 2012-5)

‘The rules aren’t rigid. Murder is punishable by banishment, but not ‘punished by banishment’, so if you were to kill an attacker and the investigator finds proof of or is convinced that you were defending your own life, you will remain a member of the community. And if you steal food, but you just spent years living out there, never having enough to eat, then the judges will take that into account. When it comes to children misbehaving we let the police officer handle things, with a report made for the record.’ (interview with Cynthia Böhr, MC, 2012-9)

‘The hardest punishment would be to kick an offender out,’ says Leslie Winkle who joined the Pasadena discussions on the topic of regulation. ‘That could mean sending someone to his death. You can’t deny that, so you have to make sure that you’re not making a mistake. Other than kicking someone out, points can be distracted and most of all, in a small community everyone would know what an offender did. For most people losing the respect of your peers sucks.’ (interview CB, 2012-3)

Where in Pasadena people had thought of rules for the members of the future community, in 2013 the first rules regarding behaviour toward those outside the community were noted down.

‘After the second attack on the farm, in March 2013, Cynthia, as a judge, initiated a law-meeting,’ Penny Drottning recalls. ‘We’d never behaved aggressively towards others, but while defending our community we aimed to kill. Cynthia suggested some rules of war law, and Tom and I told her about our unwritten ‘rules of conduct’ during scavenging missions. I think Cynthia was relieved to learn about those rules of ours and she suggested to officially apply them in case the community at large was under attack. I liked it. In the heat of the battle acts of mercy may be forgotten. Having someone remind you of a law everyone signed instead of just saying: ‘It isn’t right!’, may just keep you human. (interview MC, 2014-1)

(Extract from chapter Law & order, From The history of Drottningville, by Cynthia Böhr, first edition July 2030 CE)

Chapter Text

Daniel wasn’t very talkative. Of course he had the excuse of having to observe the surroundings, but even then Penny’s inquiries after the security situation could have been answered with more than one-syllable replies.

‘How does the team feel after yesterday’s eventsAuthor’s note AO3: Thank you Veronica for your comment on chapter 16. Some of your questions will be answered in a later chapter. I’m glad you like the history bits.?’ Penny gave it another try.

‘Good.’

‘No nervousness, no slacking?’

‘Not on my watch.’

Four words: a record. ‘Another thing: Melody’s room isn’t very big. So I was thinking…’

Daniel turned to face Penny, trying not to smile. Penny hadn’t mentioned her idea to anyone, but having spoken to her father after her return to the farm she could make an educated guess as to what Daniel thought she was going to propose.

‘After Caroline moves to the Nielsen house, I’d like you and Melody to have her room.’

Daniel didn’t reply except for setting his jaw.

‘It’s bigger than Melody’s present room and it’s got sanitary facilities nearby!’ Penny said with acted enthusiasm. Daniel turned his back on her and continued to observe the view from tower two.

‘Melody’s room is small indeed. The new RV we got is big. You’re not going to grant it to your friends from Greeneville are you?’

Breath in, breath out, Penny thought. ‘I won’t.’

Daniel nodded. ‘I hope you will consider me and Melody for the RV. We’ll start a family and I’d say that I’ve – Well. I think you know what I mean.’

Daniel made a show of checking the surroundings through his binoculars.

Penny thought of telling Daniel to uncover the lenses, but she merely shrugged and descended the ladder. Her brother was waiting for her at the gate.

OoOoO

Penny and Randall walked to the Torsvik farm. Starting from the Nielsen house the road had been covered with mud to make strangers think that it had come to an end and a few years had been enough to make plants and grasses claim it. The sign indicating that there were three properties along the dead-end road had been removed at the start of the outbreak and as a result the Torsviks had not received a lot of visitors. It did not mean that they’d suffered no casualties though.

The sky was cloudless and there were no zombies around. Penny inhaled deeply. With the weather being mild she almost expected the first crocuses to appear. Winter is coming, she reminded herself.

‘We’re not going over to steal the last apples, are we Penny?’

The orchery of the Torsviks was two miles away from their old elementary school, but many pupils had gone over there to steal fruit. The fact that they’d had to try to jump over a wide ditch and pass a thick hedge had only added to the challenge.

‘Remember those stones at the bottom of the ditch?’

‘I remember the bruises and cuts they got me,’ Randall replied.

When they’d been at house zero waiting for Hank and Pete to arrive, Penny had known that her father had told Randall about her “situation” but she hadn’t talked to her brother herself. She’d planned to do that now, during the four minutes’ walk to their neighbours, but so far she’d not even gathered the courage to enter the reason why she needed to go to the Torsvik farm, for that was connected to said “situation”. Randall for his part didn’t seem in a hurry to question her: he continued to recall memories.

‘It was always an adventure. And when Marit moved in with her vicious dogs –‘

‘Vicious? Those dogs wouldn’t hurt a fly!’

‘To would-be thieves they were mean. Fred fled just because of their barking and he never accompanied me again.’

As if on cue a dog growled. The siblings, knowing about Marit’s training expected danger to be approaching but they saw none.

‘Hi Sandy!’ Penny greeted the dog. ‘What’s wrong girl?’

Sandy growled some more but she also wagged her tail. Being well-trained she didn’t jump over the wrought iron fence that stood in the front of the house from one hedge to another.

Fancy fence, Penny heard her mother say. Like their house is some castle or so. I’ll tell you Wyatt, that woman fancies herself to be quite something.

Teenage Penny hadn’t agreed with her mother. She’d thought that Marit Torsvik was admiringly self-confident.

‘Penny for your thoughts,’ the very woman now said as she appeared from behind some shrubbery.

‘A ten dollar bill at least,’ Penny replied as she’d done many times before.

Marit opened the gate. ‘How nice to see you both! Sandy, stop growling crazy girl. I saw your sign is clear again? What happened?’

Penny summarized what had happened without revealing what had happened to her. On hearing that there’d be guards in house zero and the church Marit offered hands.

‘I’ll keep it in mind but we’ll manage for now.’

‘Are you here for the fair’s final preparations then?’

‘No, unfortunately not.’

Randall curiously looked at his sister. Penny reached into the breast pocket of her leather jacket, took out a piece of cloth and handed it to her neighbour.

Marit sharply inhaled. ‘You found her.’

Ingrid Nesbo had been Marit’s daughter-in-law and she’d gone missing at the start of the outbreak. Penny had only met her once, pre-ZO, and Ingrid had then worn her signature hairband.

Marit took them to the stables where her son was clearing manure.

‘Hi Penny! Hello Randall!’

‘Hello Lars,’ the siblings said in unison.

‘What’s wrong?’ Lars asked looking from the visitors to his mother.

‘Penny brought this,’ Marit said as she gave her son the cloth.

‘Ingrid,’ Lars whispered. ‘Where? Where did you find it?’

Penny knew Lars had searched for his missing wife for days.

‘In a ditch near the mall. You wouldn’t have spotted her there.’

‘She’s dead then. In a ditch?’

Laertes in Hamlet, Penny thought. Drowned? Where?

‘Yes.’

Lars made the hairband with its Nordic design go round and round between his fingers.

‘Thank you Penny.’

‘I’m sorry Lars.’

Marit hugged her crying son. He soon freed himself and drying his cheeks with the back of his hand said: ‘Was she hurt badly?’

Penny shook her head. ‘I think that she was bitten in her waist and that she turned rapidly.’

‘So she wasn’t ea–‘

‘No she wasn’t. I took her remains to our field.’

A white lie, Penny thought.

‘Thank you Penny. I’ll go and tell Haakon now,’ Lars said.

Lars left and Marit walked Penny and Randall to the fence. It wasn’t until they’d arrived there that Marit spoke again: ‘She went to the mall to get more canned food. Stubborn brave woman. I’m glad you found her. It will allow Lars to move on.’

They discussed some fair-related things after all. Marit said that her people were looking forward to it and she offered accommodation for four if need be.

On their way home Penny felt Randall look at her.

‘Was she really unharmed?’

‘I recognized her by her hairband.’

‘That bad huh? You found her in the mall, didn’t you?’

Penny nodded, glad that the topic was on the table now.

‘I can’t imagine what it must have been like Pen, walking between those zombies. Shit woman!’

Penny glanced at her brother.

‘Why didn’t you tell dad or me?’

’I didn’t know whether a herd of zombies wouldn’t attack me. So why tell you and give you hope? I could have died still. And it wasn’t as if there was a logical explanation.’

‘What are we? Scientists? Ha! Pen, to dad and me you’re simply immune.’

Penny shrugged.

‘Don’t you believe that? Sheldon is convinced of it and so is Howard.’

‘I know,’ Penny said hesitatingly, fingering the chin-strap she kept in a pocket of her jacket.

‘You had doubts and you just walked into that mall? Bad-ass!’

‘It gave us an advantage. Not only when it came to Pete and Hank but also for the future. The more stuff we have the less we have to scavenge, the less likely we’ll run into others who mean us harm.’

Randall playfully punched Penny’s upper arm. For some fifty feet they walked in silence.

‘Seen any other people we knew?’

‘There was a body wearing Mrs Dawn’s nametag behind the counter of the weapons section.’

Randall kicked away a peddle.

‘She was bitten in her shoulder and she’d killed herself. What if she would have been all right, just like  -.’

Penny couldn’t bring herself to finish her line. She was pulled into a bear hug.

‘You. Just like you.’

OoOoO

Sarah C wondered why her sister Sharon liked to spend time outside the wall. She congratulated herself on being selected for the house zero shift for she’d planned to apply for an apprenticeship as a scavenger and from her four hour stay here she’d learned that she preferred to face zombies where there was a gate or wall between them and her. No scavenging for her, thank you ma’am. And why should she? She was a guard, a cook and Marion’s apprentice. Enough to keep her busy right?

‘Yeah,’ she said to herself.

‘What?’

‘Ah!’

‘Day dreaming on the job Sarah?’

Another thing Sarah didn’t get about her sister was why she was attracted to Tom. Didn’t Sharon see that the man was intimidating as hell?

‘No sir. Just telling myself that I’ll shoot that zombie over there when it comes a bit closer.’

Tom didn’t look into the direction she gestured at. Of course he’d spotted the zombie already while she had only noticed it moments ago.

‘Why don’t you do it now?’

So Sarah gave it a try. Her arrow went through the zombie’s neck. She felt very small as she waited for Tom’s comment.

‘Next.’

The zombie looked gross. Really gross. It smelled disgusting too.

The second arrow went into the zombie’s cheek. The creature came closer. Tom had already gotten his bow from his back and he now loaded it. Sarah expected him to kill the zombie, but he didn’t move.

‘Sarah,’ he calmly said.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, Sarah thought. She reloaded but then the zombie dropped sideways unto the road. The arrow sticking out of its head had an orange feather at the top.

Fuck, fuckerdifuck, Sarah thought, knowing who’s mark that was.

Tom and Sarah stepped away from the front door of house zero, past a bush. A jeep drove toward them, with Raj behind the wheel and Penny standing in  the trunk.

‘I haven’t interrupted practice shooting have I?’ Penny said when she’d reached them. ‘I thought I’d better shoot just in case.’

To do something useful Sarah extracted Penny’s arrow as well as her own. Meanwhile Penny told Tom she’d come to see Howard. Sarah volunteered to get the engineer. She went inside the police station and was told by Neill that Howard was upstairs. She found him half hanging out of a window.

‘Hi, what are you doing?’

‘Measuring the height of this floor,’ Howard said. Talking  to himself he added: ‘It’s more or less at the same level as that door in the tower.’

‘Does it matter?’

‘It makes it easier to connect the buildings.’

‘Wanna make a bridge or so? Lot of work if no one lives here.’

‘Who knows what might happen.’

Howard scribbled some numbers in a notebook. ‘Did you need me for something Sarah?’

‘Penny does. She’s downstairs.’

Sarah accompanied Howard to the front door. Normally she liked being around him, for he was charming and  talkative, but today he seemed pre-occupied. On spotting Penny he smiled though and asked:  ‘Where are you taking me fair lady?’

Fair lady, Sarah thought. Well, Penny’s pretty. But I’m not ugly either, am I? She smiled at Raj who waved at her from the jeep.

‘Shopping,’ Penny told Howard. She turned to Tom: ‘The moment Leo sees people approach, have him contact Howard by walkie-talkie.’

‘Ay.’

Penny, Raj and Howard left.

‘People?’ Sarah asked, knowing she sounded daft. When Tom told her that her shift in house zero would be cut short, she was sorry she’d displeased him and yet she was glad to go home.

OoOoO

Penny manoeuvred a cart with among others a compactly folded party-tent. She’d strained a muscle getting all six heavy packages of it and she was glad Howard would be there to help her unload it. On occasion she had to wait for zombies to cross from isle to isle. Some of them showed teeth due to not having lips anymore but none behaved aggressively. For as far as it was possible Penny had gotten used to it, but she kept her hand-bow with her just the same.

On opening the emergency exit Penny found the jeep gone. On the grass within the fences lay a ball of paper. It contained the key to the gate’s lock and a message. After making sure no zombie would get in or out, Penny mounted the bicycle the guys had left and hurried to house zero where Tom stood guard. A bicycle with a white flag at the steer that was parked in front of the building. Tom told Penny that a woman from Bill’s group had arrived. ‘She claimed to be alone, but there are nine RVs at the Van Dijk farm. Also a message came through from the CDL: Greeneville and Stein are spotted. They travel together. Their signs are on safe. Greeneville brought extra people.’