As we draw near to another season of 10K Lakes, let's dip back in a bit with this story by Ian about his character Vapor...
He’s in a dream...or maybe it’s a memory? He can’t be sure; it’s all hazy. He knows who he is, though. He’s Gale again, back before Vapor. Back before the Crash, and the monsters that ate everyone around him.
He’s in his dorm room with his sister Sabrina and his best friend James. Their faces were blurry, but he can tell it’s them. They were all laughing, about what he can’t remember. Sabrina turns to him, her lips moving, but all that comes out is garbled noise. They’re safe and happy, though, and that’s all that matters.
Suddenly the room begins to shift and Gale realizes he’s no longer sitting on his bed, but instead he’s standing outside in the dorm hallway. Everything was colored in a dull gray, the pictures on the wall distorted and blurry. A terrifying scream came from the end of the hall and came closer. A figure burst from around the corner and Gale’s breath caught in his throat. It resembled a man, but only barely. His eyes were red, and black veins covered his face. He looked directly at Gale and began sprinting towards him. The man screamed something but Gale didn’t hear what he was saying, instead focusing on the blood on the man’s mouth, hands, shirt, everything.
Gale needed to move, but his legs wouldn’t budge. He felt his chest tighten and he couldn’t breathe. He saw the man run at him full tilt, his voice full of panic as he begged Gale to run away.
This was it, he was going to die here.
A door to his right opened up just then, a curious student wondering what the commotion was all about. The charging man’s attention shifted towards the unfortunate youngster and he leapt at the student, crashing into him and sending them both tumbling into the dorm room. That was enough to break Gale out of his trance and he turned and bolted with the sounds of tearing flesh and screaming echoing after him.
The walls around him shift again and he’s now standing in a dark room. He’s different now, still Gale, but only partially. A heavy pistol hung from his hip, his clothes were dirty and tattered, his hair had been cut short, and his stomach growled, the hunger ever present. The darkness faded away to reveal the daycare center that he’d worked at for a time. In front of him was a pantry full of various rations. A heavy bag appeared in his right hand and he remembered what he had been doing. Marie, the owner, was always the kind of person who liked to keep a surplus of supplies in case of emergencies, including food, and Gale definitely considered this an emergency.
He took a step forward only for a blinding light to erupt from the darkness. He put his hand up to shield his eyes and through his fingers he could make out the figure of Marie. She tells him to drop the bag and just leave. His hand tightens around the bag, his eyes never leaving hers. He wouldn’t give it up, not now. She screams and leaps at him. He didn’t even remember grabbing the gun and pulling the trigger but he felt something wet hitting his face as Marie’s head snaps backwards and her body hits the floor, unmoving.
The smoking gun fell from Gale’s hand and he stared at the now dead Marie, blood pooling around her. He should be feeling something now. Some kind of regret or disgust for the act of murder he just committed but the only thing he felt was gnawing hunger. It would be alright, he thought as he gathered up the bag, as long long as I get the food. As long as I have the food everything would turn out okay- his was interrupted as he felt a small tug at his shirttail. He twisted around violently, ready to fight, when he saw a small girl standing there, her features blurry except for the brown eyes staring up at him. Behind her were even more children, all looking at him with various expressions ranging from sadness, to fear, to anger, to confusion. Marie must have been taking care of them, God knows she was a bleeding heart, feeding them the food he now held in his hand.
A thought struck Gale at that very moment and the feelings he had been waiting for finally burst forth as he realized he had just killed the only hope these children had to survive. His chest suddenly tightened and he fell to his knees as he started to dry heave, his stomach so empty he couldn’t even produce bile to throw back up. They began to encircle him, asking him what the loud noise was. Would the monsters come get them now? Why wasn’t Marie moving, did he hurt her? What was he doing with the bag? “Stop it!” He screamed at them. They ignored him, continuing to come ever closer. “It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault. Why are you even here?” He held his head in his hands as salty tears fell to mix with the blood now covering the floor. His breathing became heavier as the children came ever closer, as if they meant to crush him into nothingness. He couldn’t handle this, couldn’t deal with the pressure, couldn’t…
He felt something snap inside him and he stood abruptly. A sense of numbness washed over him and he turned slowly to face the children. Their eyes didn’t bother him anymore, they weren’t really looking at him but something else that just looked like him. Lies that he didn’t even know he could weave together spilled forth, telling the children that he was there to take care of them and that Marie was fine and would be joining them soon, but first they had to leave or else the monsters would find them. It was the most bullshit thing he’s ever said, but he was protecting them and what little innocence they had left, so isn’t that the more important thing? Slowly, but surely, the children filed in behind him as he faced towards the door, turning the knob and swinging it open.
It was snowing now and Vapor stood atop a hill, the bag of food was gone but the children still remained. There were fewer of them now, but still enough to interest the three men standing in front of him. Their faces were marred with mathematical symbols. The man in the middle approached him and handed Vapor a large bag of food, water, medicine, everything they would need to make it east. As Vapor took hold of the bag, the man smiled at him, and Vapor saw that three of his front teeth were rotted black. The man’s companions began to corral the children and lead them away back down the hill. The children wave goodbye to Vapor, some even smiling at him. He did not smile back. The lies he had told them about the men with scarred faces would be revealed soon enough and the hope he had given them would be crushed away. It wasn’t his problem anymore, though. He finished watching the last of the group recede into the treeline and then hoisted bag over his shoulder as he made his way back to camp.
The bag felt heavy as he trudged through the woods back to camp. That was good, it meant that Belladonna and J would be able to get a decent meal for once. Maybe his sister wouldn’t look at him with such hateful eyes. He shifted the bag to his left shoulder only to feel it shift back. That was strange, bags don’t usually do that. It was then that he noticed it was no longer snowing. Indeed, it was quite hot out and Vapor remembered what he was doing. That’s right; the bag had gotten them as far as western Minnesota. He was thinking of joining up with a Taker crew near the eastern part of the state, but first he had to get some food for the group before the journey. So why was there something heavy on his-
He screamed out as something bit down on him and ripped the skin from his shoulder. He jammed the barrel of his gun into whatever it was and pulled the trigger. He felt the weight slide off his back and turned to see a headless casualty now laying on the ground. He felt light-headed. His legs gave out from under him as his back struck a tree and he slid down to the ground. He thought it was strange that he didn’t feel any pain, only the sensation that pain was there.
Something dripped down his arm and he raised it up to see golden blood fall from his fingers. That’s right, he was Immune. Why had he forgotten that? What was happening? He felt so tired. He wanted to close his eyes, but he needed to get back to camp before his companions began to worry.
He had barely managed to pick himself up when a drone suddenly appeared before him, the camera reflection showing a man he did not recognize. It turned abruptly, and when he followed its gaze he saw several dark figures charging towards him. He didn’t know who or what they were but he knew that he didn’t want to find out. The drone made a whirring sound and took off in the opposite direction.
Without knowing what else to do, Vapor took off after it. He ran despite the bleeding wound, despite the pounding in his ears, and despite the ever-growing darkness that seemed to be consuming everything around him. He ran so fast that everything became a blur and all he could see was the drone zooming in front of him. He saw a light then, just ahead of the little machine. A safe haven, maybe? He could almost feel the hands reaching out from behind him, threatening to drag him back, but still he ran on. The light was so close now, the drone beeping in celebration. He stretched out his hand towards it, almost grazing it, when a figure appeared in front of him. It was a woman with a pointed hat and wicked grin. The drone came to a stop beside her and she petted it, letting out a cackle. It was enough to make Vapor pause for only a second, but that’s all it took for the cacophony of hands to latch on to him and drag him screaming into the darkness. The drone continued to beep as Vapor watched the woman smile as hands clawed and beat at him.
She opened her mouth and, to his surprise, Belladonna’s voice came out. “Gale, wake the fuck up! Your Goddamn specs won’t stop beeping.”
Vapor’s eyes shot open as his sister drove her fist into his stomach. He coughed violently and rolled off the flea-ridden couch he called a bed, landing on his face. His head was pounding from the alcohol and he could hear Belladonna snort in disgust before walking away. His Ubiq specs were going off, every beep like a car horn ringing in his skull. He groaned, fumbling for the glasses, and saw that a few new job offers had come up. Apparently Low-End had broken up with 0perator and wanted to know if anyone was in for scoring some Bounty.
Vapor focused his eyes enough to message back that he was interested. After getting the location of the meetup, he tossed the glasses on to the couch before heading outside.
The blinding sunlight was a welcome sight. It meant he’s still alive. His stomach churned, however, as his mind recalled bits about the dream, about the children who still believed his lies all the way till the end. The guilt still clung to him as strong as the Blight clung to a Latent. It was inside of him and he was afraid it would never go away. Still, he had to keep moving onwards. Maybe this time the job wouldn’t be so bad, and he’d be one step closer to getting everyone out of the hellscape they called the Loss. Maybe, just maybe, everything would turn out all right and the nightmares would finally stop. He smiled at that thought, before quickly grimacing as his stomach churned again and he proceeded to vomit in front of the entire enclave.