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Aberrant: Dead Rising - Feeling the Path [Complete]


z-Jules WhiteElk

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The elevator was massive. It had been used before the Virus to move large machines into the missile silo and it was vastly overpowered for the two people riding on it now. It was built for power, not speed, and it made the trek downward laboriously. But after the long day, it was a pleasant comfort for the passengers.

Jules was silent as the elevator rumbled downward. Her arms were crossed around her thin torso, and she leaned against the wall of the car. She'd started the ride by not staring at Morgan, but when she looked at him out of her peripheral, all she saw was Dan. So she stared at him, noting the differences. And there were plenty. Morgan was much more attractive than Dan had been, an assessment that Jules tried not to feel guilty about. Taller, broader, stronger, a flier - Jules almost grinned when she realized that it was like thinking about Superman.

But it wasn't Superman, it was her brother-in-law, spiritually and emotionally, if not legally. She wondered how he had come to be here, the leader of one of the few safe places she'd found. Scratch that - make it the only place she'd found that could hold against the zombies and didn't ask for a payment in flesh.

Speaking of flesh... "Morgan," she said, "what was with the shudder, when Violet... Jennifer... Jenniolet left? Or was it because she left... with Priest?" Maybe she shouldn't be noisy. But there were too many things going on here, things she didn't understand. She'd never learn them fast enough to defend herself from them - or realize she needed to flee them - unless she started to ask questions.

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Morgan looked at Jules curiously for a second then understanding dawned on him as he realized what she was talking about. He chuckled, "It was nothing really. I was just reacting to the fact that I was happy to have avoided a spot in that little mess she and James have made for themselves. Perhaps it will work out for them thanks to their powers, but I doubt it. I've never heard of any lovers triangle that turned out happy in the end." He smiled and finished, "The shudder was because a couple days ago Jennifer had requested a meeting with me. I think she had intended it to be a date. I certainly would have gone and gotten involved not knowing that the woman was really another woman who had other lovers. I'm very relieved now that I know."

The explanation had lasted just long enough for the elevator to reach it's destination. Morgan led the way through the tunnels and into the launch facility. All the computers and other hardware were still exactly where they were left and in fact were operational. Leading the way down a flight of stairs he escorted Jules into what had become his home. Two levels and a couple thousand square feet of space that had once been crew quarters for the team that had manned this facility. As he showed her around he explained.

"I was stationed at this base when Z-day hit. We were isolated here and the other two guys stationed with me both had family. I didn't. Or at least none that were speaking with me. Before I was guarding nuclear missiles I was Air Force spec ops. Neither of those things lend well to keeping in touch with folks. It wasn't that Dan and I really had issues with each other, we just didn't relate. I went into the service right out of high school and he when his way and over the years we just found less and less reason to talk. Damn!" Morgan stops and looks angry, "If we had kept in touch I would have known about you and Ben and I could have come for you. I can't believe he never told me he had a son." He sighed. "Not that I was ever one to care about that sort of thing before Z-day, but it would have been nice to have known my nephew."

He led the way to the small kitchen and sat Jules at a table while he got out some food. He winced at the look of pain on Jules face at Ben's name. "Damn, I'm an idiot. Lets talk about something else."

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It would be enough to make anyone shudder, Jules thought. In principle, she wasn't opposed to poly relationships, but she didn't like them for herself. She could imagine few things worse than finding someone special in this hell, and then learning that they were someone else sometimes, and involved with other people as that someone else. For a moment, she enjoyed the sense of sameness, as she and this near-stranger shared a moment.

And then he mentioned Ben.

She was stiff as he apologized. She tried to relax, but the pain was way too fresh. "I'm going to make some food," Jules said. She'd been ravenous for as long as she could remember, and her body was responding to the constant access by demanding more. "I'll probably make too much, so you're welcome to join me."

Jules shooed him away from the food he'd gotten. She'd wondered if she'd ever get used to cooking on a stove again, after six months of using fire, but the old skills popped back. She checked out the fridge and pulled out food; soon she had three pans going, cooking bacon, scrambled eggs and potatoes. "So, what else do I need to know about living here?" Her dark eyes glanced at him, assessing Morgan. "Before it bites me in the ass."

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He frowned. "Before today I would have said nothing. It's been a day of revelations. Watch out for Violet and her little love quadrangle. Watch out and don't go out alone. Those men will spread the word of why you are here, but it could take a couple days and I'd hate to have to rescue you from a lynch mob. Of course after tomorrow if we get the weapons, I think folk will be much more relaxed. And apparently there are tensions brewing about some folks having too much of a good thing while others don't have any. Besides those I don't know of any problems here."

He looked thoughtful a minute and sat down enjoying the smell of her cooking. The smell of bacon always made him hungry even before his increased appetite. "Oh, it seems there's a group of bad folks running around out there wiping out survivors. A couple days ago we went to check out why we'd lost contact with a compound a little ways north of here and discovered it had been intentionally destroyed. Looks like they had a secret government lab down there or something. And you heard about that group of scavengers that was murdered. That's all I know."

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Jules nodded, pausing to tie up her hair. It was so reiminscent of home - putting her hair up so that she could cook without it getting in her way - before the zombies that she felt the sting of tears. This is when Dan would come up behind her, wrap his arms around her and kiss the back of her neck. Would she stop Morgan if he did it?

Oh, no... don't go there, she warned herself, trying to hide her sudden sniffles and wipe away the moisture from her eyes. He isn't a convienent Dan-shaped substitute. That would be so bad. So awful in so many ways. She snuck a look back at him. So good in ways, too.

She shook it off. Even if he were interested, she was too broken for it to be fair for either of them right now. It was best to let this particular sleeping dog lie.

She piled food onto platters and brought it to the table, as Morgan hopped up and got plates and silverware. "So," she said as she sat down, "I'm sure you have questions for me. I know that some... I may not be able to answer today, but I'll answer those I can." She smiled and dug in.

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Morgan sat waiting for the food. It was really good to have someone cook for him. His entire adult life he had either cooked for himself or had to eat the food prepared by his fellow soldiers, not all of whom could manage to boil water without ruining it. This food smelled fantastic. Even while he reveled in the smells that meant gastronomic delight, he couldn't help but notice that Jules was crying. His first instinct was to jump up and comfort her, but he felt awkward. Emotional stuff had never been his strong point, he'd just never had the time to deal with it before. Sure, he'd dated women everywhere he was posted, at least before being posted here underground in a secret facility protecting nukes, but those relationships had been shallow. They were nothing more than two adults giving some physical comfort to each other. Any time a relationship had started to get serious he would find some excuse to end it. Even as a child he and Dan hadn't exactly had a normal upbringing. Their dad had been abusive and their mother had been codependent. Being the older of the two boys Morgan had taken the brunt of the beatings and verbal tirades as often as possible to protect Dan. By the time they were teens neither of them spent any more time in the house than they could possibly get away with. Then at 16 he had lied about his age and gotten a guy to forge him a birth certificate to get him into the Air Force. He and Dan hadn't really talked much after that. Dan had thought Morgan had abandoned him and never completely forgave his leaving. Morgan, well, he'd missed his little brother, but after enlisting he had a new life one that helped him to forget what had gone before. He'd almost laughed in the Drill Sergeants face the first time he got chewed out during training... the guy couldn't compare to the things their father had said.

So here he sat in the control facility of a Titan I launch site across the table from his dead brothers wife who was mourning the loss of everything she had ever known and loved and he was at a complete loss for what to do. When she sat the tray down on the table pretending to be o.k., he reached over and put his hand gently on her forearm and squeezed lightly. It was the best he could do. He was afraid anything he said would make matters worse for her and he didn't dare put his arms around her, that just seemed too awkward.

"Thanks for making breakfast. It smells wonderful."

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"Em, you're welcome," Jules said, trying to smile a little. It was awkward being in this situation, essentially living with a man who she wasn't married to - though by the customs of her people, he was the only man she could marry. All other remarriages were forbidden, by the old ways.

She pushed away the thought. It was inappropriate, and it took her thoughts down paths she wasn't sure she should follow. Morgan was single, but did he want a woman who had been through what she had been? She'd been harshly used by the world, and some men would look poorly on her for that. Some part of her wanted to find out, and she blurted, "How do you feel about killing Hornsbeck? I didn't want to ask in front of the others, but if we can get to him, I'd..." She drew a deep breath and said, "I'd like to kill him myself."

Morgan looked up from his plate, fork pausing, and Jules realized what she'd done. "Oh, god... I'm... I'm sorry, Morgan," she said, feeling stupid tears again. She put her elbow on the table and rested her forehead against her hand. "It's been so long since I've been at a real table, with food... I've forgotten how to be civilized. We should be having a nice meal. Don't let me ruin it." The mood felt so dark - or maybe it was just her - that she attempted a joke. "But I promise you, I'm house-broken really."

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Morgan chuckled at her promise. "It's ok, really. I don't mind talking about it. I'm not sure about how Priest will do with what might have to be done once we get there, but I am a soldier. I've got no problem killing those who need killin." He did look thoughtful for a moment though. "I'm not sure you should kill Hornsbeck. It's not a good thing to make killin personal. Justice is one thing and righteous anger is fine, but hate eats you up and if you kill for the wrong reason it can eat you up inside. I've seen good soldiers crack after a mission because they made things personal. I guarantee you that I won't let a slaver live that has done the things you said he has done."

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Jules struggled with how much to tell Morgan for a moment. "I want to kill him because I told him I would," Jules said. "I looked him in the eye and promised him I'd come back and kill him. And he... he laughed at me."

Her hands were clenched tight enough that they hurt. For a moment, she flashed back to that dark cell, to the pain and the smell of mold and fear, and the sound of Ben crying because he was afraid. But more clear than anything was the triumphant sneer on Hornsbeck's face.

The image faded, and Jules was back in Morgan's home. "I really like to keep my promises," Jules said as calmly as she could manage. "And this was an important promise."

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Morgan didn't say anything for a long moment as he weighed the options. He could refuse her but then it might eat at her for the rest of her life that she hadn't settled the score. On the other hand if he did let her kill him his death would be on her hands and she might regret that later. After a moment he decided to err on the side of Jules' vengeance. If he were in her place he'd hate anyone that got in his way.

"Ok, Jules. You got it. I will let you do what you need to do, but not before we've had a chance to evaluate the situation. Not that I don't trust your word, but the others have to see that we don't just kill out of hand. We must do it because it's the best course of action. Can you live with that?"

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Assess the situation? Jules wasn't sure that would be enough, but she nodded and started to pick at her food again. After a moment, a thought occurred to her, and she looked up at Morgan, her fork motionless. He quickly caught her stillness and looked expectantly at her.

"What if... what if I could show some proof... now? Something that would show the others what he's responsible for?" She didn't want to do this. Part of why she had to see Hornsbeck dead and buried was to bury this, but she was starting to realize that she couldn't hide it. Even if she said nothing now, Hornsbeck would start talking when they were there.

She couldn't bury this. Not if she wanted to fill her promise. She waited for Morgan to give his answer, fighting the gut-clenching nerves that were dancing in her belly.

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Morgan couldn't imagine what form such proof could take, but he had a bad feeling about it. Given that she had nothing with her that meant the evidence had to be 'on' her and that made him sad. "You don't have to show me any proof, I believe you."

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Jules relaxed slowly, as she realized that she'd been cut a break. She smiled a little, then suddenly got up and stepped around the table. Her arms slid around him and gave him a hug. She didn't say anything else, but there was more calm to her as she returned to her seat and started eating again.

After they were nearly done, she asked, "How can I earn my keep around here? What kinda jobs do you guys need done?" She'd keep busy; that should help.

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Morgan was surprised at the hug, it had come out of the blue. He hadn't had time to react and hug her back before she was back around the table again but he figured it was a good sign.

"Wel, as far as jobs go, there's always more that needs doin than hands to work. What kind of skills do you have? And since I know you are like me and some of the others, what are your special talents?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"I've been a housewife, and I helped Dan teach aikido," Jules said, pushing her empty plate away. "I could keep your area clean... if you don't mind." She glanced around. "You're doing a pretty good job, don't get me wrong, but it'd free you up to do other stuff. I don't have a lot of professional skills, though I've gotten to be a good shot." No need to talk about why.

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Morgan considered that and thought it sounded like a good idea. "Ok, Jules, for now you can start by keeping the place clean and you can stay here with me if you want. You might not have much by way of professional skills, but if you don't mind I'd also like you to help me keep up with things around the base. Maybe reminders of things that need to be done and that sort of thing. Also, be sure to keep a sidearm on you at least. I'll let folks know you will be my administrative assistant. That way they don't get the wrong idea about things." He smiled at Jules hoping to ease her mind. Morgan didn't didn't want the same kind of rumors going around about him as were about Violet and James and their little harem. The thought made him look at Jules for the first time, really look at her and he was surprised to realize that she really was an extremely pretty woman. He cleared his throat and moved to the sink to rinse off his dishes. Last thing he wanted to do was make her uncomfortable or worse dishonor Dan's memory by hitting on his widow first thing on her arrival and still grieving for her dead son.

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So I finally became a secretary, just like you always warned me about, Mom, Jules laughed to herself. Her humor fled when she considered that she couldn't share that with her mom. As she somberly considered this, she missed Morgan's assessment of her.

The clink of dishes pulled her out of her revere. "Oh, stop that," she said, hopping to her feet. "That's my job, remember?" She stepped to the sink next to him, reaching past him to take the dishes from him. His familiar features once again messed her up; as casually as she would with Dan, she bumped him with her hip and said, "Step aside. I've got this." Too late, she realized how much she'd just violated her brother-in-law's personal space. Under the pretense of giving him room, she went back for her dishes, too.

"What would I be doing as your assistant?" Jules asked as she began to clear the table. "I'm assuming that I wouldn't be transcribing a lot of letters or anything."

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Morgan grunted in amusement not thinking anything of the momentary invasion of personal space. Letters, that was pretty funny. "No, no letters. I'll need someone around who can keep track of things for me and help me remember the things that need to be done. Someone to help organize people to do the jobs that need to be done. Someone that can speak with my voice if I'm not here. That kind of thing." He stopped what he was doing and thought for a moment getting a very serious expression on his face.

He moved to the table and sat again in deep thought. After a minute he looked up. You just made me think of something very important. "I want a library. How many of the worlds best minds have we already lost to the plague? In a generation there won't be anyone left who knows squat. We need to preserve as much knowledge as we can. I don't give a crap about Joan Collin's biography, but I want all the technical manuals and textbooks we can get our hands on. We'll build a building if we have to, but I want that knowledge preserved. Specifically the useful stuff. We need to start a school too, not just for kids but for adults as well, teach things like fixing engines and mechanical problems. How to create fuel, etc." He looked to Jules to gage her reaction to his ideas.

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Whatever she was expecting, this wasn't it. "Wait," she said, her jaw dropping a little. "You're not talking about an assistant, there, more like... a... a second-in-command. I mean if I talk with your voice..." Her dark eyes were wide as she added, "I'm willing to help, but you just met me. Are you sure you want me to do that?

"And you don't have a school?" Jules looked a little horrified at that. The mother in her was about to burst forth into mother-valkyrie form, but she managed to hold it back. "You have what looks like a nightclub going up, but no school?"

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Morgan nodded, "Yep, we've just now gotten to a point beyond basic survival. No school. And yeah, I guess a second in command is a good way of putting it, but that will take some time. Folk will have to get to know you first and trust you. For now I just meant someone who has my interests in mind. I've got a guy that is my second in command, Lt. Markham, he's a good man, but he's not a special like you and I. I need someone who can not be taken out by a simple sucker punch if you know what I mean. Someone that can work with Markham when I might be gone on a day trip or something. I think you'd be a good choice. You don't have a dog in the race so to speak, no one will assume you have someone else's interests other than mine."

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"So... ok," Jules said, wondering how he was going to take her immediate thought. Just say it. Be clear from the beginning. Finally, she just frowned and said, "So like a wife? I don't mean literally, but someone who isn't in the chain of command, but has your... confidence and ear? Please, let me know if I'm assuming or reading too much into your words. I just want to know what you see me doing, so that I don't... do anything like overstep my bounds."

The idea was enticing. It gave her something to do, to be, something to forget what she had lost - mother - being. "I'm not turning it down," she added quickly. "I'm very interested, just making sure I know what I'm getting into."

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Morgan almost choked on the word wife, but managed to keep his face straight as he listened to the rest of her words. "Umm, yeah, pretty much what you are describing. I reserve the right to change my mind if things don't work out, but I think I'm a pretty decent judge of character. If you want the job it's yours." He started to add jokingly 'unless you fail miserably', but figured in her state that it wouldn't be perceived as a joke and so wisely shut his mouth.

After a bit he looked around thoughtfully, he'd have to find someplace for her to sleep. "Let me show you the rest of the control dome. There is only the one bedroom since this was a military operation and one of the three men would have been on duty at all times, so there is just a bunk bed. I'm afraid you get top bunk." smile

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Jules couldn't help but laugh at the mention of a bunk. "Whatever," she said, shaking her head and smiling. "It's a bed, at this point, and that's better than I've had in a while. I've had nothing better than a sleeping bag for a long time..."

Her face fell as she realized her full situation. "Morgan, I need to impose a bit more," she said, trying for levity. "Everything I owned was on the horse I lost. So these are all my clothes, and unless you're planning on me causing riots by running around naked, I need some clothes. Just a few outfits, some jeans and shirts, and, um... underclothes."

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He smiled, "Well we just raided that walmart this afternoon, I'm sure there is some stuff in there you can use. Meanwhile, take a good long shower and get clean and I'll fetch you somethings from that haul, it'll all be clean at least if not the height of fashion. While you wait you can find something to wear while I'm gone among the things in the second locker in the bedroom. One of the guys stationed here was a bit smaller than me. His stuff will come close to fitting you, there are tshirts and pants anyway."

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"Sure," Jules said with a smile. She was going to owe him big after this. "Thanks."

He nodded and left, and Jules went to help herself to a shower. It was heaven, a true delight; the hot water cascaded down her skin, sloughing off dirt and dead skin. The feel of the shampoo in her hair almost made her cry. And then she realized how much she was enjoying it, and that her baby had died without this luxury, and then she was crying. And once she started, once she let go, she couldn't stop. Dan, Sami, Benny - all the death and loss she'd been subjected to finally was vented in a rush of grief so powerful, she almost choked. She ended up on the floor, curled in a ball, crying.

After a time, she had no more tears, as clean of her pain inside as she was of dirt on the out. It had been a while since she had felt like this, without all the repressed and hidden pain, and she felt almost light, like she could fly. She rose and shut off the shower. After drying off and getting into the borrowed clothes, she went wandering around a bit. But she was tired, and Morgan was taking a while, so she found the bedroom. It was pretty much like she'd expected; sparse and austere, a sanctuary rather than home.

Yawning, she resolved to do something about that later. A layer of paint would make it feel less like a military bunker, she mused as she climbed up into her bunk. She was just going to lay down to wait for Morgan, but she was asleep within seconds of closing her eyes.

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When he returned Morgan found Jules sleeping in the top bunk. All the dirt and muck gone and the grief no longer on her face he realized for the fist time that she was truly beautiful. He felt a pang of guilt for the thought. This was his brother's widow he shouldn't see her in that light! He put the pile of cloths down on a chair where she would be sure to notice then moved up next to the bed and pulled the covers up and tucked them in. She looked so peaceful in sleep. He hoped she would find a little of that peace in here waking hour. Rather than risk disturbing her he moved out of the bedroom and gently closed the door. He didn't really need sleep anymore anyway, might as well head out and check up on the camp and make sure everyone else was at peace as much as this refuge could allow.

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