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One of the things Herr Carlson never taught on any of his collector vintage vinyls was how to survive in a fucking apocalypse.

While Five is aware that he can’t really hold Carlson accountable for his lack of knowledge, he sure as hell can curse him for teaching him about everything he didn’t need and couldn’t use. Sometimes he threw Reginald in those rants about their uselessness to Delores, who happily cheered him on with their mutual hate for the man. For all of the times that the man drilled into their heads that their only purpose was to stop the apocalypse, he didn’t give a scrap of information on what to do if one survives and ends up living in this hellscape. Herr Carlson could’ve done better than that bastard. Herr Carlson did do better than him.

When the vinyl crackled on and began droning on about how to survive being lost in the woods over the scraping of knives and forks, all of the instructions were perfectly reasonable. They were well thought out, and would be extremely helpful if they were in that situation. If you need to find a way out of a forest or dense wooden areas, you find a river or stream and keep on following it in one direction, and eventually you’ll hit open water. If you need food and can hunt, a water source is near the best game, because even the wildlife need to hydrate. If you can’t hunt, watch and see if animals eat berries from the bushes that are accessible. If you need to sleep, don’t rest on the floor as other animals may attack you. Instead climb a tree. If you’re running from a person, cross over water so they can’t trace your footsteps. If there is no water to cross, hide in a tree’s canopy.

There were well over ten discs discussing what to do if you need help in forests, but all of those are a load of horseshit if there’s no forest. Those were all burned down quickly from what he assumed to be bits of flaming moon, as well as any wildlife trapped in there. Oh yeah, there was no bloody moon. Bet good ol' Reggie and Herr Carlson know squat about what to do in that situation. You know how dark it gets when there’s no moonlight? It get’s dark. With the lack of the moon, all sorts of things around what’s left of Earth are thrown out of wack. Top one being the ocean.

Did you know that there is more knowledge about what is happening in outer space than there is about the oceans? Scientists only know about roughly 30% of what is going on in the ocean, which they were forced to share a planet with. You think they would try to explore it more, no? Five understands now why they didn’t dare explore it. He traveled to where he assumed the ocean once was, hoping that the lack of tides caused by the moon would bring some hope, but no. Words can’t describe how those monsters brought up by the ocean looked. There was sand and mangled corpses for thousands of miles on end, some resembling sea creatures and humans, others most definitely not. Five just hoped that evolution wasn’t any different for those monsters, and that they remained dead.

In some places, this was the total opposite. When what he assumed were raging tsunamis eventually settled, they ended up leaving huge cities as swamps and flooding toxic water. The color of the water was so murky you couldn’t even see if you hovered an object just below the surface. Whether it was from oil, blood, or debris, Five didn’t want to investigate any further. After he saw a severely mutilated corpse suspended in the air by an old telephone pole, he decided to avoid going anywhere near the coast and headed elsewhere.

As he headed inland, he decided to go back around to his families graves. He knew it was bad for him, but he felt guilty. If he didn’t time travel, then maybe they could’ve stopped the apocalypse and lived happy lives. He didn’t know his siblings well, and he left before he could. He was arrogant and a snot-nosed child, but that didn’t mean he didn’t care for those idiots. He spent years saving money, calculating how much it would take for them to run away. Based on Vanya’s book, they never found it. It hurt that all he knew of his siblings was the backlash of Vanya’s anger. Yet somehow he couldn’t help but thank Vanya, because at least he knows something.

They weren’t buried all that deep, maybe one to two feet down under the ground. After days of digging the holes with his bare hands and unburying his five siblings from the initial pile, they had finally been properly buried. Five didn’t have any flowers at the time, so they didn’t get much on top of them. They had some rocks and sticks on top of the mounds in the shape of their numbers, which satisfied Five. Every time that he and Delores trekked through there, he left little objects he found that reminded him of them, making sure to make piles for Ben, Mom, and Pogo too. His favorite thing was the moon rock on Luther’s grave. He always was obsessed with the moon.

Five had the hardest time finding Vanya. He assumed that she wouldn’t be anywhere near the academy after finding the four others, safe and maybe exploring Russia like she always wanted to. (Not that she would’ve survived Russia, the world was ruin.) When he finished unburying Diego and tripped over the bow of a violin, he lost hope. After Vanya was fully out of the rubble, he did a double take through his teary eyes. Vanya looked completely different from the picture on the back of her book. Her eyes were startlingly white, not the warm honey ones he’s used to. Her violin was the same marble white as her suit, and the carved V.H. told him that this was the same exact violin she possessed as a kid. The biggest difference perhaps, was that this Vanya radiated power. Vanya back home was meek. And suddenly it clicked.

Why would Reginald Hargreeves keep a useless asset? One that has no role in the apocalypse, no special powers he could potentially weaponize in order to stop it? Someone who is only around because they happened to be born under the same circumstance the rest of the Academy was? Why would she be in the centre of the fight, surrounded as if being attacked by the esteemed heroes Reginald trained them to be? Simple. She was the fight. She was extraordinary.

He forgave her, even after so many years in the apocalypse.

It gave him the drive to keep on going, to not curl up surrounded by his siblings corpses and let that be it. He pushed his boundaries farther in order to get back and save them, keeping their faces and stories in his mind to push him farther. To not let this next winter take him, or allow the raging fires to eat him. Didn’t allow hunger to blind him, to not let the fierce storms drown him. Because he could save them.

So he reluctantly turned his back to their small graveyard, and made his way to the mountains to make it through winter. He collected any food that he could find, threw in anything to help make a fire, and loaded in any bottles, empty or half full. He piled any clothes that looked like he could fit in that would keep him warm, keeping those on top of the other items as security. Delores was watching over to make sure nothing fell off the side, occasionally pointing out useful items.

They huddled up in a small cave that was sheltered from most weather during winters, huddling under Luther’s giant coat for warmth and using the snow covering the mouth of the cave as drinking water. They lit fires sparingly, unless they got lucky and collected enough supplies to keep them lit. They rationed their food, eating one or two things a week to keep it throughout winter while stuck in their tiny cave. The snow slowly stops, and they fill their bottles up with the melting snow and head out for the remaining months.

Over time, he started to make a list of rules to follow. Delores approved of the idea, so he was happy to go along with it. If he didn’t follow the rules of the list, they could have fatal consequences, so it wasn’t like he was upset with them either. Stick to the burning and hill areas, avoid the oceans at all cost. The creatures from the coast don’t stay dead. Don’t be caught after dark, they’re crossing over rapidly to every and any territory. Don’t trust any shadows, even if it looks humanoid. It spreads.

This is how Five has operated for years.

Then he managed to stumble upon what he assumed to be an abandoned bunker carved into the inside of the mountain. He had misjudged the snowstorm and needed to lie low for the next month, and he was struggling to find a good cave to hide in. When Delores pointed out the metal door, he had no choice but to rush in there with his wagon and Delores.

He explored each room, stumbling over several rotting corpses that were littered around the bunker. He dragged them into one of the many rooms, and left them there in peace. He would place them outside when the storm passed, so they could properly decompose. They also smelt really bad after years of being stuck down here, and this was the most intact building Five has come across and he had no plans on leaving it.

This was the best place Five had stumbled upon throughout the apocalypse, it had extra space to wander around in and more surfaces to scribble calculations across, and it wasn’t going to give Five pneumonia or a harsh cold. It was warm after being closed off for so many years, especially with Five walking through the long halls. He could use the dim hallway lights to find a way back to his siblings, and Delores could read some of her old classic novels while he works. It was the greatest thing to happen to them in a long time.

Then the nightmares started.

Five had rested fitfully the first three nights, and he had initially blamed it on adjusting to the new place. He did, after all, find a new place to hide out in during the winter. He tossed and turned in his sleep, mumbling and whimpering into the air while Delores sleeps peacefully next to him, unaware of his fitful sleep. He brushed it off and continued working through the day, pausing to go to the bathroom and drink some water.

It got worse. His fitful sleep plunged into full blown nightmares, almost never varying in subject. He would be stumbling around the bunker with the dim lights flickering red ominously, and he could feel eyes on him wherever he went. This wasn’t the same feeling as Delores observing him work, where he would meet her eyes and she would be staring back warmly, setting her book down to talk to him about his equations, no. This presence felt as if it was picking apart his every move, observing him like he was some kind of nasty science experiment at a third grade science fair. It sent shivers down his spine, and whenever he looked over his shoulder there would be nothing there.

He began having multiple nightmares per night, all escalating over time. It would start as him scribbling out math equations, mumbling to Delores about quadrilaterals and integers when he would feel the eyes crawling over his skin. He would check the rooms, and hear the pitter patter of something crossing the halls and shadows bouncing around the walls and swivel around only to feel something hit his head and knock him into another dream.

The second dream that followed was always about private training. God, he hated it. Reginald looking down on him with that cold stare while Pogo just stands behind him doing nothing to stop him. Arms restraining him and knocking him out with Grace’s mechanical smile fading in and out of his vision. Then waking up from a daze, stuck inside of a straight jacket in a pitch black room, the feeling over water swirling around his ankles and the sound of water dripping. There’d be no light to see where he’s jumping to except when Reginald presses the button the charge to water and make his powers go into overdrive. Then he passes out from exhaustion, body warping as it struggles to jump between space.

Then he’d wake up. Delores right beside him, slightly concerned about his night terrors but reassuring him that he’ll survive and is strong enough to get through this. He pull himself up, and poke at funny bruises or scratches that seem to just appear after he tosses in his sleep, and get to work. He’d smile at Delores and rub the sleep from his eyes, pick up his dying marker and get going.

The dreams didn’t stop, and they started to affect him throughout what he assumed was daytime. He would feel constantly lightheaded, forced to use the walls as a support system and take breaks or else he would pass out. It was a flip of a coin if he would go voluntarily or not. The amount of terrors swarming his dreams increased, it felt like he could’ve been dreaming for days on end. The hallways began to taunt him, and a weird sense of deja-vu trailed wherever he went. He felt as if he were going mad, with the hallways seemingly never-ending and too short at the same time.

Delores managed to get through to him finally, telling him that he needs to rest. The storm must’ve passed by now, it had already been roughly two weeks down in the bunker and he already had low food supply, including the food he found in one of the old rooms. Soon enough Five’s body couldn’t keep up with him and he crashed in his room, dizzy and seconds from purging the little food he had in his small stomach.

Five didn’t know how long he was out. It could’ve been minutes or it could’ve been days, but it wasn’t exactly easy to keep track of time during an apocalypse. There weren’t any well-functioning clocks just lying around after all. But he could make assumptions.

He groaned, and raised his arm to rub at his head, hair all knotted and cut uneven and jagged. His movements were sluggish, and his limbs felt heavy. He squinted around the room, but his eyes were all hazy. He rubbed the sleep away with one hand and patted around for Delores with the other. He finally felt the familiar plastic and tugged it towards him. Or at least he tried to.

“Delores?” Don’t get him wrong, he loved Delores, but even he knew that mannequins don’t magically become heavier overnight. He pushed himself up off the ground with his weight on his forearms, still groggy from his nap. He glanced to where Delores should have been resting, noting her absence with a growing dread. There was something so much more sinister looking in her place.

He froze. His eyes trailed along the three figures that loomed above him, as still as statues. The lights flickered red, spinning around to a silent alarm and making the figures dance in the lights and shadows. White labs coats rested upon their shoulders, with a deep red substance flowing through the material as if they were veins. Their gazes bore into him, tracking every one of his movements and tilting their heads ominously in time. Upon further examination, Five’s horror grew.

They didn’t have eyes. Their sockets saw right through to their skulls, blood dripping down the side of their faces. The bottom half of their face looked perfectly human, not a single imperfection in place. The humane features ended there. Their torso was inhumanly skinny, with no ribs appearing through the skin. If there was more light, he would surely be able to see foggy shapes swirling through from the other side of the stomach. Their arms were boney and too long, joints all out of place and bent in all the wrong angles. Their legs were bent backwards like a flamingoes, brushing against the coats with a slight swishing sound that tracked through his nightmares. The coats looked like something straight out of a cartoon, swaying to an unseen breeze in the underground bunker.

The closest one was the shortest of the trio, which unnerved Five. Why did he have to be the closest to him, especially with his smaller stature? He had never encountered this breed outside, where did it come from? He shivered at the thought. Where they dwelling down here the whole time? The second thing he had noticed about them made his blood boil. The second one was clutching Delores, or what was left of her.

Her shirt was ripped to shreds, with the plastic underneath melted in places while other places were cut straight into. They stabbed her, and then tried to burn her. Five choked down a sob at the rest of Delores. Her fingers were missing on her hand, bent backwards until the plastic was ripped off. Her arm was mangled and bent, ashy fingerprints left behind from the monsters in coats. And god, her head. It was torn off of her body, and barely hanging on by shitty sowing and melted plastic. Her eyes were burned off, making her look just like the other monsters that surrounded him.

He didn’t even bother to look at the remaining freak. He snarled and lunged at the monster, hands thrashing out with nails like talons. They took his one companion in this hellhole, he’ll take theirs if it was the last thing he did. They dropped Delores with a loud clunk, clearly not expecting Five to attack. He shoved his fingers through the eye sockets and smashed its skull against the wall, leaving a loud crack echoing around the room. He kicked through the stomach as it slid to the floor, which easily gave way beneath his foot, almost as if it was made of paper.

He turned to the shortest one and repeated the same action but punching through their stomach, which gave way just as easily as the first one. He roared, and as the short one dropped, Five kept kicking its head Into a wall, making sure it wouldn't get up again. He panted, not expecting to fight this soon during winter. His body was already weak from the lack of sleep and food, and this certainly hadn't help him any.

He shifted his gaze to Delores’s mangled corpse. He tries to choke back tears, but fails. Tears stream down his face, leaving trails through the dirtiness on its way down. He swipes them away furiously, and stumbles over to wear Delores is laying. He gently picked up her head, careful to not jostle her any more out of fear she’ll break. His body was shaking, and his blood still roared in his ears from adrenaline.

It must of been the ringing ears and shivering, but next thing he knew was a sharp pain coming from the side of his neck. He sloppily slapped his neck to pinpoint the pain. His fingers wrapped around cool glass, and he yanked it out. His vision swam, but it was unmistakably a syringe. All of the contents have been emptied, leaving a murky sprinkle of condensation of the sides. He whipped around to see the attacker, and tried to stand up. His body didn’t have the same plans, and collapsed underneath his hands. He was disoriented, and fumbled around as best he could. He sloppily swung for the attacker, but missed by a mile. The last thing he saw was the third and tallest monster clutching the empty syringe, watching him with fascination.

He really should’ve bothered to look at the remaining freak.