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as we know it

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The world is slowly dying.

Every day is colder than the one that came before, turning greyer from the ever expanding ceiling of clouds that separates them from God knows what. Alex thinks they’re clouds, but she can’t be sure; maybe the sky has just turned grey. Empty. A infinite expanse of nothing. Somewhere in her memory she see flashes of blue sky, a brilliant, calming colour punctuated by wispy, white, pure clouds. Sometimes she thinks that world was a dream, lost in myth and legend, in books never to be read.

She thinks it’s Spring, but there’s no way of telling. No blossom on the trees, no anything on the trees because they have been charred to resemble giant matchsticks until they fall and crumble into nothing like the rest of the world around them. Spring was a time for new life; but the animals are long gone and the only thing certain about life now is that at some point it will end.

The coward in her wishes she hadn’t fought so hard in the beginning, that if she hadn’t, she would be at peace. But she’s battled on, like a wounded soldier, not for honour, not for glory but for the same reason she has always fought; Kara.

She’s fighting to save Kara. Because there had been a virus, a terrible virus and it had killed the aliens first. And Kara had been safe, she had been somewhere out of reach, but now she is in more danger than she has ever been in. And Alex had made a promise to save her, to get her to some lab in Boston where they had heard whispers of an antidote to the virus being created in the early days. She doesn’t even know if the lab is still standing, and she has no way of finding out. This could all just be a futile effort to save her sister. But Kara couldn’t save herself.

“Where do you think we are?”

Alex has lost track of how many times Kara has asked that question, and each time she is no closer to finding the real answer. Nowhere is all that exists now, boundaries gone, division destroyed by the cruel monotony of destruction that had swept through the country, maybe even the world.

“Colorado, maybe,” she guesses.

“How long has it been?” Kara asks.

Alex lost count of the days long ago, but it couldn’t have been more than a few months. Everything had happened so quickly, and yet her life before this seemed like an eon ago.

Something like guilt flashes across Kara’s face and Alex knows exactly what she’s thinking; if she still had her powers, they wouldn’t be here. But there was no changing the past. They didn’t know what the virus was going to do, they didn’t know the world was literally going to just end. And Kara had been a hero, right up until the moment she had used up all her powers, trying to save as many people as she could. And now there was no sun, no fake light, no DEO lab where she could recharge. Nothing that would heal her. The grey sky was a permanent Kryptonite.

“We’re not even close,” Kara says. “If I could just -”

“You can’t, Kara,” Alex says. “We just have to stick to the road.”

She readjusts the rucksack on her shoulder, ignoring the ache rising up her neck.

“Come on, let’s just keep walking. We’ll find something.”

Or someone.

 

They walk for days, not even stopping to sleep until Kara nearly collapses in a coughing fit, the sound echoing terribly in the silence of the road they stumble along. In the distance, through the misty rain that soaks them to the bones, Alex can see the faint outlines of houses. Occupied or not, she doesn’t know. She isn’t even sure if she wants to stay long enough to find out.

Alex half carries, half drags her sister through the town. It looks long since abandoned. She doubts anyone made it out and she doubts even less that they left anything of use behind.

“Alex, we have to stop.”

“Yeah, yeah, we will,” she says, eyes darting around the corners, her instincts and training kicking in again, hand resting on the butt of the gun tucked into the back of her belt.

There’s a building just up ahead that looks like it once was a town hall, a centre of decisions and politics and community. And now all that remains is crumbling walls, discoloured stone and, if they’re lucky, supplies and a warm place to camp for the night.

“We’ll be warm in here,” she says, letting go of Kara momentarily so she can slide a bike chain from the rucksack through the handles of the door.

Their footsteps echo on dirty stone floors. She reaches out blindly for Kara as her eyes adjust to the dark, blinking rapidly until the shapes become clearer and she can make out upturned tables, broken chairs and fluorescent lights which have smashed on the floor.

Kara falls asleep almost as soon as she sits down, back against a desk. Alex hesitates, unwilling to leave Kara alone, but the need to search for something useful grows with each second she waits.

The side rooms hold nothing of value, just empty files, discarded ammo shells, plastic bottles, cans, wrappers. It could be worse, she thinks, shuddering as she remembers the stench of death that had stained the back of her throat for days after one investigation into the place they had camped for the night.

The final room she steps into has tally marks on the walls, etched in with pencil. She counts them, running her fingers over the soft bumps of graphite, wondering idly what they mean.

“Alex?”

She jumps, turning to see Kara standing in the doorway.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah… I just didn’t know where you were,” Kara says and guilt spikes in Alex’s gut. “What’re you looking for?”

“Not sure,” Alex says, pacing around the room. She sits down at the desk, fiddling with the dials of an old radio transmitter, flicking the switches. “But I know we’re alone.”

As soon as the words are out of her mouth, there’s a whirring sound and lights flicker on the radio system, a low hum coming from the receiver.

“Shit!”

“What did you do?” Kara asks, eyes wide, joining Alex by the radio, showing more energy than she has done in days. “How did you fix it?”

“I didn’t,” Alex says, her fingers hovering above the buttons, scared that if she touches it, it will break. “How is that even possible?”

“Maybe there’s some power lines still standing,” Kara suggests, and although it sounds impossible, there is no denying what’s in front of them. “Maybe a storm triggered it.”

“Or maybe it's a trap” Alex says, picking up the receiver, tossing it between her hands as she stares at the dials. She twists them until the crackle of static fades out, the hum becoming longer, louder, and she winces at the sound.

“There’s only one way to find out,” Kara says, and Alex takes a deep breath.

 

***

“This is Alex Danvers, is there anybody alive out there?”

Maggie nearly falls off the back of her chair from where she’s leaning on it’s back legs, feet resting crossed at the ankles, on the table upon which sits the outdated radio equipment which, after months of silence, has finally crackled into life. Static fills the room, and she stands, staring, because she doesn’t dare believe her ears. She’s almost forgotten what it’s like to hear another human voice.

“Hello? Anyone? Can anyone read me?”

Shit . This is no joke, she's not hallucinating, the world is too sharp for it to be a dream. She dives forwards, grabbing the receiver, turning the volume up so the static overwhelms the small room.

“Yeah - yeah, I can, I can hear you.”

There’s a soft scream on the other end of the line, and then muffled, static sounds in the background that sound like movement. She twists some of the dials and the line becomes clearer and she can clearly hear someone coughing in the background, and then the woman’s voice filters through again.

“I didn’t think anyone would answer,” she says. “I didn’t think there was anyone.”

“You and me both,” Maggie says, gripping the receiver like a lifeline, desperate not to let go. There’s a hundred questions running around in her head; who are you, how did you get out, how are you still alive. But the coughing starts again. “Who else is there?”

“My sister, Kara,” the woman called Alex says.

“Is she okay?”

There’s a pause and for a heart stopping second, Maggie thinks the line has gone dead before she’s even had the chance to say anything meaningful.

“It’s the virus,” Alex says and Maggie’s blood runs cold.

“I’m sorry." The words sound pathetic even to her own ears.

“It’s fine,” Alex says, but the waver in her voice says otherwise. “So who am I talking to?”

“Maggie Sawyer,” Maggie says. Her heart is still pounding furiously in her chest just from the sound of another person's voice. “You must be pretty close by to reach me.”

“And where are you exactly?”

Maggie looks out of the dusty window at the infinitely gray sky she can see through the burnt matchstick trees, out onto stretches of fields of cracked mud and dead grass.

“Blue Springs, Nebraska, or what’s left of it,” she adds with a humourless laugh. “Any idea where you’re calling from?”

“We’re already in Nebraska?”

Alex’s voice is filled with awe at their accomplishment.

“You sound surprised. Where did you come from?”

“National City.”

Maggie lets out a low whistle. That was definitely something to be proud of. She’s surprised, yet also grateful, that the two women hadn’t run into any cannibals or criminals along the way. Or maybe they just had a talent for survival.

“I’m impressed. How far east are you heading?”

“Trying to get to Boston.”

“Ah, so you’re cure hunters?”

“If that’s what people are calling us,” Alex says.

Maggie’s heard stories about cure hunters, travelling across states to try and reach labs on the East where a cure for the virus that had spread across the country was being made. She’d heard how some groups would stop at nothing to get there, how, slowly, the numbers had dwindled until the majority of survivors were people who were stranded, waiting to see if the next day brought anything new, hopeful. Today had done just that for Maggie.

“That’s quite a journey, Danvers,” Maggie says, contemplating what she’s about to say. It’s going to be a risky move, she knows it, but she isn't going to pass up this chance and she has never been one to back away from a risk. “Don’t suppose you’re in need of a decent place to stay for a night?”

The line is silent again, but Maggie can practically hear Alex thinking, the cogs in her brain ticking over as she considers the offer.

“What do you want?”

The response takes her aback.

“Nothing! I’m just offering,” Maggie says. “You'll be the first human contact I’ve had in months, and I’ve started to go crazy in my own company.”

Okay, so maybe going crazy wasn’t the best thing to start joking about. She was trying to do the opposite of scaring Alex and her sister, the first people she’s spoken to in what feels like forever, away.

“So you’re not going to just expect us to give you all our food or whatever?”

“I don’t need food or whatever,” she says. “There’s still some good in this world, Danvers. Start believing in it.”

There’s another pause, and whispering she can’t quite make out, the static starting to come back onto the line. It’s a miracle there’s enough power to make one call; one more storm, and she knew that the radio would be impossible to use again.

“You still with me, Danvers?”

“I’m only agreeing for Kara,” she says eventually. “She needs it more than I do.”

“Happy to help,” Maggie says. “Any idea where you are?”

There’s a low muttering on the other end of the line, and Maggie waits, her fingers gripping the edge of the table, hardly daring to believe she is this close to actual human beings.

“Wymore.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, Kara spotted a sign on the road,” Alex says.

“Well, that makes things easier, you’re the next town over,” Maggie says. “Didn’t realise there was anything left of the place. I guess the fires must have missed it.”

“Lucky for us,” Alex says. “So, what’s the plan?”

“I’ll come and meet you in Wymore as soon as it’s light,” Maggie says, trying not to stare out of the window again now darkness has slowly crept up on her. The fear of the unknown enemy terrified her more than she cared to admit. She’d been alone for too long.

“We’ll be ready,” Alex says, and Maggie can hear the eagerness in her voice, as desperate as she is to meet someone on her side.

“Just so you know, you’ll be safe there for one night,” Maggie says, commenting on the slight apprehension in Alex’s voice that has been there from the moment she spoke. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She’s about to hang up the line when Alex speaks again, her voice stronger this time, protective almost. Maggie can tell she’s had to say the words before, like they’ve been ingrained in Alex for years before this moment.

“Sawyer, how do I know I can trust you?”

“You don’t. See you around, Danvers.”