The ceiling was wrong. That was the first impression upon waking up. The cracks were in the wrong places and the color was wrong - or was it just dark? No, the ceiling was the wrong shape. It was a square. That wasn't right. The dorm ceiling was a long rectangle, and there should have been a "3 wuz here" scratched into the plaster right over there.
Burning, sharp pressure in lungs that refused to function, a heartbeat so fast and hard it was like jackhammer pounding at the inside of fragile ribs. Memories and impressions of angry scientists, needles, pain. Bright lights. Lab coats. A battered Jeep. In half a second, less time than it took for those images to register, the Runner was upright and ready to bolt, ready to sprint for safety.
But... no. This wasn't a lab. This wasn't even a familiar building. There was nothing in here that even... wait.
Trembling rose up inside, shaking the Runner from the core all the way out to their fingertips. There was something very very wrong with this. Very very wrong with all of this. There was nothing here that was right.
The blankets were wrong.
The walls were wrong.
The door was wrong.
This was the place they had left behind. This was the play they had run away from. This was not home. This was nothing like home.
The world had turned on its head. That was the only explanation. Or maybe... concussion? Coma? Hallucination? There was no use in checking. Instead, the Runner rushed to the window and stared out into the dark street. The cracked pavement, the clear paint lines, the whole buildings. There was nothing out there that suggested anything worse than neglect. No crawlers. No shamblers.
Light flashed across the window and the Runner almost had a heart attack as they sprang away from the glass. A car cruised past a moment later, the hum of its engine entirely devoid of any of the telltale coughing or clunking that would betray the "modifications" that had to be made after the first few months of the Apocalypse. And... who drove cars at night? Nothing made sense, everything was tangled up, none of this sensory input was computing. The Runner turned, lung-pressure and heart-pounding just getting worse, accompanied now by the stinging heat of tears. Diving for the radio, they flipped it on and started desperately scanning channels, searching for familiar voices or at least familiar music.
Jack and Eugene didn't have a lot of space for discs and things, but it was alright, because they stuff they had was good and they could always put in a request for supply runs and...
No. No no no no no no no.
The tuner dial had hit the end, and there was still no Jack. No Eugene. No Numa Numa. None of the songs that Abel Radio was famous for. Over and over and over.... Five twisted the dial frantically, scrolling back through the stations, then back again, and again.
Then it hit like a cricket bat to the knees, and the Runner collapsed, gripping the radio so tight the plastic casing creaked ominously. Jack and Eugene weren't on the radio because it wasn't real. It had all been... what? A fever dream? A hallucination? No scars. No zombies. No friends.
Five folded their legs up tight against their body and tried to hold in the wild sobs tearing at their lungs. It would sound like coughing if they let it out. Coughing made people nervous. Or did it? Everything was confusing. Everything was WRONG. And everything was empty. They were alone.
No Janine. No Radio Abel. No Sam.
"Ahm?" Five's voice, rough and wobbly with disuse and tears, scraped its way out of their throat like dragging a spoon out of dried oatmeal. "Ahm?"
No one answered, and they knew no one would come.
This was the world where no one cared. This was the world where there was no one to make sure they ate, and they only ate what they could steal.
It was like going to sleep in paradise and waking up in hell. Five didn't even try not to fall apart. What was the point? There was no one here to care. There was no one here to kick them into gear for the next run. There was no one here to need them.
No zoms. No plague. No Abel. No radio.
Five drifted through life, wishing... no, not really. That took too much effort. It was less painful to just not care. Now if only they could... stop caring.
No headset. No runs. No stupid pranks.
Stolen food. Cold sleeping bag. Rats pouncing on their toes.
A footstep. A crunch. Five looked into the darkness, wondering what was coming next. A squatter coming to steal the sleeping bag? A gangbanger? A punk? They'd welcome the fight.
"Five?" A hoarse whisper. A tallish figure with longish hair.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Another whisper. And that was a familiar whisper. Long nights. Hard nights. Hard missions. Don't let the zoms hear you. Five sat bolt upright as the first figure started to pass the door, out in the half-demolished hallway.
"Of course I'm not sure. They never mentioned where-" The whisper broke off in a shriek of surprise as Five came barreling out of the room and collided with the second figure like a small locomotive. All the air left his lungs as they hit the opposite wall, then fell through it, the rotten wood and drywall giving way.
"Ahm!" It was as if someone had turned the light on in a dark room. It was still dark, of course - it was night and there was no electricity in this building. But Sam was back. Sam was back!
It took a minute for everyone to understand what was going on, but Five didn't let go, and Maxine shining a torch in their face was the most welcome reason for a blinding the Runner could imagine. Where they went from there and how they got along is another story, but at least they were no longer alone.