The passengers of the van found themselves in a silence as Jim drove onward. It was probably out of fatigue. Odd was actually asleep. Jeremy had his arm over Aelita, while Yumi and Ulrich sat next to each other, thinking about what they had all just been through. Shawn was up in the passenger seat next to Jim, telling him which turns to take since he knew the area best.
"Any idea where we are?" Jim asked Shawn.
"I wish," Shawn replied. "Everything looks different now. It's either burnt or dilapidated at this point. I've been scavengin' in city of Atlanta for the past couple of months, so I haven't been this far out in a while."
Jim replied with a grunt, and kept his mouth shut for a while. The whole group really wasn't in a talkative mood, Shawn observed. Eventually, everyone besides Jim was asleep. It was late at night, but he wasn't tired. He usually slept once every three days; insomnia brought on by fear. Instead of being frozen with it, he channeled it into energy. Soon, the sun was up.
"What the HELL is that?!" Jim suddenly bellowed. Everyone in the van was jolted awake by his exclamation, and had the same reaction when they saw what had prompted it. Everyone except Shawn, that is. He simply chuckled as the French nationals looked at the deserted fast-food restaurant with a giant chicken head attached to it. It was so big, it blocked out the rising sun.
"That's the Big Chicken," the Atlanta native explained. "It used to be a KFC Kentucky Fried Chicken place before the walkers showed up. It means we're in Marietta."
"I'm starting to see why heart disease was such a big problem in America," Yumi observed with her usual cynicism.
They drove as far as they could until the van was running on fumes, which was not very long. Eventually, Jim pulled up to an abandoned gas station. It was the first one they saw that did not have a sign saying "No Gas," even though all of the pumps were covered by black plastic bags. The bags were worn out and torn, having been exposed the elements for months now, but they were still clinging to where they had been put, and the materials in them would not finish breaking down for thousands of years. Jim turned his body to speak to all of his passengers.
"Now, this place could have food, it could have water, maybe even fuel, but it also have walkers. I don't need to tell you all to be careful, right?" he told them. They all nodded, and Jim continued.
"I'm going to need to trust you all; not only to have each other's back, but also not to do anything stupid. Ok?"
"You can trust us, Jim," Ulrich replied.
"Good. You're not kids, anymore. I'm going to look around, see if I can find anything nearby. If you think it's safe, check out the store over there. There might be food or something else we can use. Oh, try not to use guns if it gets hairy in there."
Shawn took out a big hunting knife. Odd handed Shawn back the gun he loaned to him, and Aelita and Jeremy handed back the weapons they had borrowed. The six teens exited the van, and walked toward the nearby convenience store. The windows were smashed, and the lighting was dim, but it also looked less damaged than most buildings.
Jeremy pondered what Jim had said, that they weren't kids anymore. Biologically, they still were, but an undead world had made them grow up fast. He wondered if their time fighting XANA had helped them, given them experience in dire situations and had made them a cohesive team.
No, he thought. That did not explain Shawn, a hardened fighter who had survived on his own for a long time. No Lyoko, no team; yet he was still an extremely capable survivor. Jeremy had no idea what his life had been like before, but he could sure handle himself. However, he wondered what sort of toll the walkers and isolation had taken on Shawn's mind.
Walking toward the store, Shawn suddenly stopped. The others were surprised, and looked at him in surprise. Though his stoic face did not show it, he looked at this store with fear.
"I'm not going in there," he said.
"Why not?" Ulrich asked in a dismissive tone.
"Are you kidding me?" Shawn replied, trying to sound confident. "That place is a death-trap. Low lighting, lots of corners, plenty of places for something to hide and come out at you, and only one exit. Just walking in there is enough to box you in."
"You don't have to go in if you don't want to, but we are. I didn't think you'd be one to chicken out," Yumi said dismissively, before turning her back and walking to the entrance.
"I trust my instincts," the grizzled survivor replied. Jeremy and Aelita started thinking Shawn might be right, but went ahead with Yumi, Ulrich, and Odd. Shawn stayed outside, watching to door.
Walking in, they all looked around, scanning for danger or something useful.
"Hey, look," Odd said, this time in French. With Shawn outside, they saw no need for English. Odd walked toward counter with the cash register. There was a nozzle and part of a red, plastic gas-can sticking out from behind the resister.
"Cool," Odd commented. What Odd did not see was the hand clutching the gas-can, nor the undead cashier whom the hand was attached to. The zombie hissed and grabbed Odd with its left hand when he touched the gas-can.
"Oh God, help!" he shouted. Immediately, his friends sprang into action. Jeremy and Aelita grabbed Odd, pulling him away from the undead assailant, while Ulrich and Yumi quickly attacked the cashier with their pipe and machete. The zombie let go and fell behind the counter top, releasing Odd, and fell behind the corner. Ulrich and Yumi hopped behind the counter to finish the zombie off, slashing and bludgeoning its skull until it was nothing but red mulch.
"Is he bit?" Shawn called out, sticking his head, peering through a broken window. Jeremy and Aelita started checking Odd's arms.
"Is he bit?!" Shawn asked again, demanding an answer as he walked into the store.
"He's fine, damn it!" Aelita cried out in English, fearing what Shawn would do out of paranoia. She stared into his eyes as if she were about to fight him.
"What about scratched?" Shawn asked. "When a walker decomposes, its nails get more exposed. They can scratch you and infect you that way."
"I don't see anything," Jeremy informed him. Shawn turned to Yumi and Ulrich.
"What about y'all? Y'all alright?"
Yumi and Ulrich nodded.
"Good. Let's see what we can find."
They were surprised how fast Shawn got over his earlier fear. Odd looked at his friends, and, for the first time, noticed all the blood-stains on their clothes. Some were old, blackened rough patches that stuck to their clothing, while some were fresh, probably from their battle near the Home Depot. Yumi and Ulrich hand some new ones from the cashier they put down.
The store had a lot of preserved, albeit unhealthy, food, and some bottles of water in the back. There was also a lot of alcohol left over, and Ulrich made a comment about Jim possibly wanting some. Aelita kept walking, looking around the store. Jeremy unconsciously stayed close, instinctively wanting to protect her.
Entering a hallway, she saw a bulletin board with notes about store prices, local events, and pictures of employees and their families. She stopped for a second, looking at the photographs. She looked at the children in the photographs, and the joy on all the faces in them. They were all things she had not seen in a long time.
Suddenly, she heard a light thump behind her, and she turned around to see what made it. She gasped, put her back to the wall, and covered her mouth to keep her from making more noise. Jeremy ran to her side to see what was wrong. He too was startled. In front of them was the door to a large freezer with a small window attached, and through the window they saw a zombie with its face pressed against it, its breath fogging up the glass.
Aelita saw Shawn, Yumi, Ulrich, and Odd rush toward the freezer door.
"Walker," she whispered. They all looked at it in puzzlement.
"Damn," Shawn simply replied.
"How are we going to get rid of it?" Yumi asked.
"Just leave it there," he replied. The others were surprised, considering how bloodthirsty he could be.
"He can't get out of there, nobody can hear him. He ain't hurting anyone. Just leave him there, he'd be more trouble killing that he's worth. Now let's gather what we can and get out of this shit-hole."
Shawn picked up what he had gathered, and left the store. Odd, Aelita, and Jeremy followed. Ulrich stayed behind for a minute, and gave the walker a hateful look.
"Come on," Yumi said, tugging on his arm. Ulrich nodded, and they both exited the store. Jim was still off, searching for whatever, so Odd filled up his van with more gas. Ulrich and Yumi had found more gas-cans by the dead cashier, so they surmised he must have been scavenging when he got bit. The dead guy had a large bite on his stomach, so he must have bled out and been infected from that.
Waiting for Jim to arrive, boredom soon set in. Aelita and Jeremy talked amongst themselves in French, Ulrich and Yumi inspected their weapons and gave playful taunts to each other in French, Odd tried, unsuccessfully, to tell some jokes in English, and Shawn just silently took apart and cleaned his Smith & Wesson M&Ps.
"You remember what Jim said, that we weren't kids anymore?" Jeremy asked Aelita. They were both sitting on the sidewalk near the store.
"Yeah. What do you mean?"
I don't know. It just stuck with me."
Aelita looked at him for a moment.
"Our situation has changed," she told him. "We need to adapt to."
Jeremy was surprised. Aelita seemed to have changed since the battle in the parking lot.
"So you're saying this won't change?" Jeremy asked.
"It'll get better," Aelita replied. "We'll adapt, the chaos will end. But for now, we're stuck with this."
"When do you think the chaos will end?" Jeremy inquired. Aelita shook her head.
"I have no idea."
Jeremy then remembered the fight they had gotten into on the roof of that skyscraper, how she threw his laptop off the roof.
"I still wonder what caused it," he said. "I wonder if XANA had a part in it, or if was just a random event."
Aelita looked down at the ground, wondering what to say.
"Plagues happen," she said in a neutral tone, still looking away.
"You ok?" She finally looked at him. Her face seemed neutral, but her eyes betrayed sadness watering in her eyes.
"Yeah." Her sorrow was much more apparent, now. Jeremy put his hand on her knee.
"Hey look, it's like what you said. Thinks will get better. We just need to get to it." Aelita smiled.
Before anything else could be said, the report of a shotgun blast close by was heard. Everybody got up, and looked around, watching for danger.
"That was Jim," Shawn stated. "We need to find him and get the hell outta here, now."
They ran toward the sound as fast as they could. The shotgun blast would call every walker for miles, and Jim had the keys to the van. They heard two more blasts until they saw Jim fleeing a car-wash.
"Run!" he shouted. The teens heard the sound glass breaking, and saw a large group of walkers rushing out of a nearby shop. With walkers coming from the car-wash, shop, and other places, they were almost surrounded.
"Go!" Ulrich commanded. They ran like hell, slashing or smashing any walkers in there way, but there was just so many of them. At one point, Jeremy lost sight of Aelita. He stopped, and called out her name, but felt Ulrich grab his arm.
"What about Aelita?!"
"MOVE!" Ulrich started dragging Jeremy to the van. They could hear the sound of Shawn's pistols. They made it to the van, and drove away as fast as they could.
"Have we got everyone?" Jim asked as he drove. Jeremy looked around, his face showing horror.
"Where's Shawn?" Odd asked.
"Oh, my God," Yumi said out of shock.
"We've got to go back!" Jeremy said in French.
"Hang on! We need to lose these walkers, then I'll make an end-run and go back to the gas-station," Jim replied.
"We need to go back now!" Jeremy shouted, terrified for Aelita. He started opening the door to the van.
"Jeremy, STOP!" Ulrich said, but it did not stop him. Before he could unbuckle his seatbelt, Ulrich punched Jeremy hard, dazing him. Jim drove as fast as he could, made an end-run, and pulled up back at the gas station. Jeremy was coming to, and jumped out to look for Aelita. They walked down the street, back to the car-wash, but didn't see anyone.
"AELITA!" Jeremy called out, desperate for a sign of life.
"Shut up," Ulrich suddenly said. "If the walkers hear you, we're all dead."
"You son-of-a-bitch." Jeremy walked up to him. "You left Aelita to die, you motherf-"
"Stop," Jim ordered. "We don't know if she's alive or dead. But we WILL find her, one way or another."
Jeremy was still furious with Ulrich. He started to threaten him.
"If she's dead, I swear to God I'll "
"You'll do what?!" Ulrich interrupted. "I saved your life!"
Jeremy could not take it and threw a punch at Ulrich, which was a big mistake. Ulrich blocked it, and struck him back out of reflex. Bottled up anger was swelling up, and he kick, kneed, and flipped Jeremy onto the pavement. Ulrich climbed on top of him, and kept punching him. Jeremy's glass flew off of his face, but did not break, thank God. Yumi grabbed Ulrich in a double joint-lock and pulled him off. Odd went to see Jeremy, but he got up and pushed Odd away, still pissed-off.
"I'm not done with you!" Jeremy said, about to lunge at Ulrich, but Jim pinned him down.
"Calm the hell down," Jim commanded. He let Jeremy go.
"Now Jeremy, look in my. Look in my eye, damn it! Listen, we'll find Aelita, alright? But we've got to stop fighting amongst ourselves. Do you hear me? Now, I swear to God, we WILL find her. No matter what."
"Why the hell did you use that gun, Jim?" Ulrich asked. At this point, Yumi had let him go.
"What do you mean?"
"You said it yourself, 'no guns.' That shotgun called every walker for miles. The hell were you thinking?"
"I'd rather not talk about it." A typical Jim-saying.
"Shut up." Ulrich was tired of excuses. "We ran into two walkers in the store, and we didn't make any noise."
"I'd rather not "
"I had to kill a man!" Jim finally explained. "You see this bag?" He opened it for everyone to see.
"Food, water, ammo, a map, and a radio. It was bait. I saw it, and I fell into a trap. This guy came at me with a knife, and I shot him. That's what happened, Ulrich; I blew a man's head off. I killed a man for you kids."
Jeremy was still distraught about Aelita, Ulrich was still angry about what had happened to them, but Yumi and Odd were horrified that Jim had killed someone.
"Now all of you, get your shit together," Jim ordered. "We're going to find Aelita and Shawn, dead or alive. But if we're going to do it, we're going to have to stop dwelling on what happened and focus on the now. If we're going to find them, we're going to need to do it soon."
Jim hoped that Shawn had stayed behind and helped Aelita. He knew Shawn was the kind of guy who could last on his own, but he was not sure if he was humane enough to help someone else. Despite what Jim said earlier, about thinking people were "inherently bad," he still hoped Shawn would prove him wrong.
I do not own Code Lyoko, any of its characters, or The Walking Dead. Code Lyoko is owned by Moonscoop, while The Walking Dead is owned by AMC studios and Robert Kirkman