March 24, 2028
Humanity is deeply flawed. We can all admit that.
In the before times (as I like to call them), we couldn’t get enough of it. We took comfort in it. It gave us an excuse to screw up.
“I’m only human.” “People make mistakes”. “Nobody’s perfect.”
We had a safety net. A set of rules everyone understood. Cops, news reports, families. Consequences for our actions. Sure, there was always the occasional intrusive thought. An urge that frightened us. But, for most folks, that’s all it was – a thought. Nothing we’d ever act on. There was too much at stake. Too much contentment we might lose. With that system in place – society intact – we knew thoughts would stay thoughts. We could keep pretending we were good. That we weren’t capable of being the thing that bumps in the night.
It only took the end of the world to show us how terrifying we really are.
When you strip the comfort away – remove the rules – all that’s left is the truth. Raw impulse. Nothing stopping you from letting whatever’s inside out of its cage. An inherent evil. Boiling up, festering, waiting to do the unthinkable. Whether you want to admit it or not, it’s there. All of us have it. Some are just more in touch than others.
Two years ago, I lost my last chance at peace. Alex, and Sweet Pea…both gone. I didn’t give myself enough time to mourn. I taught myself not to feel, and I kept moving – directly into the lion’s den. Pittsburgh, as it turns out, had fallen into a bit of a civil war. The gunshots probably should have been a good clue, but at the time, they sounded a lot kinder than the screeching clicks coming from behind me. A sane person might have thrown themselves into the pit of infected and gotten it over with, but I wasn’t sane. I felt like I had done wrong. Like I needed to be punished. So I ran towards pain.
The city (don’t go to cities) was mostly full of humans. Regular, non-infected humans. At first, it was almost a relief. Finally! People who aren’t dead! Others of my own kind! Beings who spoke words instead of noises! Yippee!!!
Luckily, I was smart enough to watch before I engaged. I followed the sounds of gunfire downtown, hoping I might find another group of survivors. A happy little clan, clearing the area of Runners, that I could run to with open arms. Comrades I could use to soothe my broken soul. But that’s not what I found there. Where I thought I might finally find companionship – a reprieve from apocalyptic isolation – I only saw more monsters.
People who let their evil win. The worst of mankind, running the streets. I hid in a dark, quiet storefront, and watched them ambush innocent (stupid, but innocent) travelers with no mercy. A truck rolled through, on its way to God knows where, and the folks inside couldn’t even make it down the block. They were run off the road, pulled from their vehicle, and slaughtered. A couple, it looked like. Their truck was stripped for parts, and the killers practically danced over their bodies. Smug, dirty looks on their faces.
I lost it.
There weren’t many, and I had the drop on them. They left some of their guns on the ground, too far behind them, secure in their tasteless victory. I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t take it anymore. If I wasn’t going to be punished, I’d make sure they were. It didn’t take long for me to kill them all. To drop to my knees and start sobbing. To let my evil win.
That was my first time being a murderer. It didn’t feel good, but it did have surprising results. My tears (and also probably the gunfire) attracted some unwanted attention from the infected. I was going to let them nab me, but before they could, a collection of knives took them all out. A new group of survivors, ones who didn’t want to kill me, had seen everything. They saw what I had in me, and they saw I used it “the right way”.
Two years later, I’m still with them. They aren’t family, but they’ll do. They were en route to join the Fireflies when I met them, and I had nothing better to do. So I guess that’s what I’m doing now too. We’ve stopped for a bit in Jackson County, Wyoming, but it’s been a long journey. I didn’t realize how differently parts of the country reacted to all this. One thing has been made abundantly clear though, and it’s time I make it official in the journal –
Rule #58, People Aren’t Better Than Monsters
Don’t trust anybody. Even among my current crew, I sleep with one eye open. Or I just don’t sleep. Truthfully, it’s killing my hygiene. But I’m not trying to impress anyone anymore, am I?
If you’re going to be making your way around the States, it would be helpful for you to know who you’re dealing with. Over the last 24 months (ish), I’ve taken notes on every group of survivors we’ve encountered or heard tell of. I’ll list them all here, for your convenience, in the hopes it helps you make heads from tails the next time a stranger offers you their hand.
So, here they are – The Known Survival Groups of the Infected States of America
F.E.D.R.A. (Federal Disaster Response Agency)
I covered these guys in my earliest “Apocalypse 101” entries, but just in case you don’t have the whole journal (who knows where these pages end up) or you’ve forgotten, I’ll go over them again. FEDRA is all that’s left of the United States government, and at this point, they’re really just power-hungry, militarized tyrants. They set up and run the Quarantine Zones with an iron fist, acting as a militia with the goal of “keeping the peace”, and sometimes fly around the country looking for people to force under their rule – or “infected” to kill. One perk of having government support? They’re the most heavily armed group you’ll ever meet in the apocalypse. Tanks, high-powered weaponry, you name it. Probably best to avoid a violent encounter if you can.
Alex used to be a Smuggler. These are the people who really run the world these days. They sneak supplies, weapons, and all kinds of contraband around the country, and are maybe the only folks who can move in and out of QZ’s with ease. The Smugglers have a massive underground network connecting multiple cities and settlements across both coasts. Sometimes, when people have had enough of the outside world, they even pay Smugglers to sneak them into QZ’s and slip them ration cards. For the most part, these guys won’t hurt you unless you do them dirty. Bad business to cause a ruckus, but if you do cross them, they won’t hesitate to end your life.
(One of the most legendary Smugglers is a man named Bill, who lives outside of Boston. He’s got a whole town to himself, rigged with endless traps for infected and unwanted trespassers that only he knows how to get past. A little extra? Likely. Still kinda cool? Yep.)
These are the creeps I dealt with in Pittsburgh, but really, they’re all over. We’ve heard of Hunter attacks in Kansas City and here in Jackson County, as well. They’re some of the most hostile survivors you’ll find, and normally, you’ll find them in what’s left of major cities. Hunters overthrow existing communities – often QZ’s – and feast on their remains. Anyone who enters their territory will be brutally murdered, without remorse, for their clothes, supplies, weapons, and/or food. You can tell you’re in the presence of Hunters from their complete lack of empathy, and the way they call you “tourist“. They think they’re funny. You should kill on sight.
A lot like Hunters, just with a different method of taking your things. Bandits don’t take over cities or lay traps for unassuming passersby, but instead leave their own smaller encampments to attack bigger communities nearby. They’re a little more feral, and they’ve spent more time living in the woods and away from civilization. We’ve seen a lot of these guys since arriving in Wyoming. A massive, dangerous nuisance if you’ve managed to create any kind of settlement in their vicinity.
Yeah, they exist. Remember when I said people aren’t better than monsters? This is what I mean. Infected eat people, and as it turns out, people eat people. They look sickly, but they’re well-fed. You don’t have to hunt if you’re willing to eat one of your own, and if they’re willing to eat their own kind, what else do you think they’re willing to do? The majority of reports regarding cannibals have come from Colorado, near the Silver Lake area, but I’d bet money there are more out there.
Like FEDRA, we’ve covered the Fireflies before – but for the sake of the survival guide, let’s run through it again. The Fireflies are a revolutionary militia group with a goal of returning the world to it’s former state and removing the borderline-fascist FEDRA agents from power. They believe in democracy, and if the rumors are true, they’re after a cure for the Cordyceps fungus. They’re based out of Salt Lake City, in Utah, but have encampments all over the nation. The Fireflies are great with propaganda, too. You’ll see their logo and slogan spray painted everywhere – “Remember, when you’re lost in the darkness.. Look for the light. Believe in the Fireflies!“*
You didn’t think the apocalypse would end slavery, did you? The Rattlers exist in California – Santa Barbara, if word is accurate – and thrive on forcing other people to do their dirty work for them. They capture unassuming travelers and use them to keep whatever type of community they have over there running. We met one escapee on our journey, and she said they even capture infected and tie them up out front as guard dogs. Wild stuff.
Ok, hear me out on this one – polygamist FEDRA deserters who’ve couped up together in New Mexico, who believe in themselves as “defenders of the Constitution”. Never met one, but found a document on my travels from someone who had. I’d say it’s hard to believe, but I’ve seen a lot worse.
I sorta hope I never have to cross paths with the Seraphites. They’re a religious group, out of Seattle, Washington, who pray to a false prophet and believe the Cordyceps fungus is a God-sent punishment for humanity’s sins. They don’t use any advanced technology or weaponry, and have “returned themselves to the Earth”. Live off the land, treat women poorly, don’t believe in sexuality as a spectrum, all that fun stuff. To be honest, though, they can be nasty, and they’re pretty set in their ways. Weird vibes overall. We found this prayer in someone’s bag, once. We think it’s theirs –
“The world is not in balance
But I have done my part to right it
You have led me through the storm
Now I must rest
May the current be calm
May you guide me home“
Washington Liberation Front
The Seraphites’ rivals, and the other major group living in Seattle. They’re maybe the one civilian militia to overthrow FEDRA and not become Hunters. The Washington Liberation Front are often called “Wolves” by other communities, and they’re not afraid to go the extra mile to get what they want. Currently, they’re involved in a minor Civil War for control of Seattle. Could take a long time for that one to be settled.
This is where we are now. Maybe the most peaceful place I’ve seen since leaving the QZ. It’s a self-sustained community in picturesque Jackson, Wyoming, led by a lovely woman named Maria and her father. They get their power from a hydroelectric dam, and basically function as if there’s no apocalypse happening at all. It’s gorgeous, and the people are actually friendly. Horses, farms, markets, etc. I’m still waiting for the “BUT”.
We stumbled across this place in Jackson on the way to meet the Fireflies. We’re supposed to meet one of their members here, someone named Tommy, so he can escort us the rest of the way. I’m not really sure what the plan is. Almost wish I could stay, but the last few years and my time in Wyoming had started to make me feel like I might have a bigger purpose in all this.
*(I used to think the Fireflies were foolhardy, but now, after everything I’ve lost, they kinda sound like the best option out there. If I’m going to be fighting for my life, I might as well fight for everyone else’s too. The community in Jackson is so tranquil. It’s what I’d always hoped I could find with Alex and Sweet Pea. If the Fireflies are offering a chance to do that, for the whole country, I want to help them. I’m not afraid to do what I must for that future anymore. Not after Pittsburgh…)