Its time to pick up on our next mission. Granted, because this was 2010, and I'm just some 32 year old dude sitting here ten years later, my memory is having trouble recalling if this mission took place on the same day, or on the next day. Heck, it may have even been before the artifact mission. In the past, it wouldn't be uncommon to have more than one mission in a day, or even days without missions. This is because Res-leaders (NPCs usually played by lower ranking mods), would have their own missions. All I know is that this mission took place early on in the game, and its the mission where I met Megan and a few of the other members of Strike Team: [Redacted]. They chose to change their name, some time when the campus finally started taking rape culture seriously, and asked that I call them that from now on. For context, it was a penny arcade reference... I'm trying not to make this weird, so I'll just call them the Wolves.
Jate and Megan.
How I met the wolves. (The Court street Mission)
It was somewhat late in the afternoon, but up till this point, it had been a very wet, gray, chilly autumn day. The drizzling rain was finally starting to relent, but the light hadn't penetrated through the clouds yet. Which meant the only thing to contrast the scenery was a large band of people carrying vibrantly colored plastic nerf guns and bandanas on their arms. I walked amongst my fellow human resistance. Clad in my trench coat, with a jacket underneath. I also recall wearing my zombie kitty hat. Something I had bought from the dealer's room in an anime con back in the day. And it was doing a semi-descent job at keeping my head dry. Of course wading my way through the zombie apocalypse meant that I had to bring it out just once, and since its dark gray coloring fit with my trench coat and overall color scheme, it was the perfect instrument to keep some of that warmth in. But by now, it was starting to warm up. I was about to remove it, when the res leader made a sharp turn to the left. Right into Tarp Alley.
"Heads up! We're hitting Tarp Alley!" Someone shouted, followed by a collective groan from the wet and weary humans. I primed my blaster, taking note of my full drum behind the transparent back of the raider's ammo barrel. Though by now, it was starting to fog in there. The water droplets dripped off of our plastic blasters as we mentally prepared ourselves. Then, we rounded the corner, and there on the far end near the parking garage was a tall zombie with a bandana tied to a top hat. The humans entered. Now, here's the thing about Tarp Alley. Its not the worst ambush point in Athens, but its up there. A dingy alley with all kinds of alcoves, Lots of trash bins (of varying sizes), poles and pipes, a few cross points linking up to Court Street and College Street, Stairs and little holes to duck down in, and at least two parking garages and one loading dock that were still in play. The big one I had my final stand in for my first game was now prohibited, along with the Botanical gardens starting this game. There's back doors to most of the court street restaurants, and then there's a series of pipes and utility meters in a long half shed with a series of doors that in those days were never locked. Meaning they might as well come with a "Warning, Dead inside" label on them. This was my first real Tarp Alley ambush, but I had already familiarized myself with them, being that on the other side away from the green, it exited out to some parking lots, and the hookah bar beyond that. So I already had most of the hiding spots memorized.
The Humans crept down, maintaining a high alert. Then the tall zombie with the top hat took off further down the alley. And then from both corners of one of the intersecting alleys, the horde came charging in. We held our ground, and the foam flew into the mass of charging, screaming bodies. A few circled around behind us and attacked from behind, but our rear guard already had a parremeter locked down. Once dead, they took off in the direction of the top hat zombie. But here's the thing. Tarp Alley isn't over after the horde charges. So even when the Res-Leader took lead and walked at a brisk pace, we didn't let down our guard. And surely enough, at least one straggler busted out of the utility shed doors at us. He was met with several darts.
The Res-Leader turned the corner towards Court Street, much to our surprise, and just kept walking. There were another series of alleys on the other side of court street, and I figured that he was going to go down there, but he stopped on the other side of the street and allowed us to gather. By now, there was actual sunlight hitting us. The clouds had started to dissipate, and the temperature started to rise. You don't notice these things when you are in high stress situations. And after being told we were safe for the time being, that didn't stop some of us (Myself included) from walking to the rear and keeping watch. Some call it unnecessary, but by now, it was instinct to me. This is one of those games where paranoia kept you alive, and complacency killed, and as the sole survivor of Tempest (To my knowledge), I wasn't willing to risk someone getting into position, only to feel a tug on my bandana the moment gameplay resumed.
The escort phase was over. The real mission briefing had begun there on court street. We were told that we needed to find six clear plastic bottles with glow sticks in them (I forget what they were plot-wise), and our only hint was that they were somewhere on court street. Meaning that this mission was more designed for strike teams. And as they dispersed, I found myself joining a group that was still nearby, checking every crevice and hidy-hole along the building with one keeping watch. I figured, I might as well tag along. Watching the southern side of court street, and the angle around the building. The group didn't find anything, so they left, and I followed. I think we were a four person squad at that point. Something that struck me as interesting about this group was how despite seeming new at the game, they really seemed to understand the importance of staying alert, and when someone did jump out at them, they kept their cool, and were as quick as I was to put the poor zombies down. It seemed like the girl was the backbone of their team, calling the shots, and keeping the watch. She introduced herself to me as Megan, introduced her teammates (Pretty sure that Stephen was one of them, and I forget the other one.), and allowed me to recount my rehearsed backstory of being the lone survivor of a two man strike team.
We found the first bottle, when we veered off into one of the left alleys when roaming north. It was on a mod who acted as though he was in the progress of dying, and he gave it to us with his last moments of life. Then went silent. The group started to converse with each other, but Megan just said "Baaack." And at her command, the three of us took a step away. I kept my raider trained on him as the other two resumed talking. And then he slipped on a bandana, and lunged at us. Meeting foam instead of brains. We resumed our search, heading further up court street. There was a group that had engaged the hoard, and we were checking to see if they needed the help, but thankfully they didn't. It appeared as though they had found another, which put the humans at two. And then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted that top hat again. Soon as we all landed eyes on him, he ran off in a fast sprint with his long strides carrying him to the far edge of court street. We just figured he was going to loop around and hit us on the other side, but he never did. So, we parted ways from the humans and resumed our search, heading back south down Court Street.
When checking a little area near an outdoor ATM with various vending machines near baker, the group started to coordinate information with other strike teams. Evidently, with exception of the one found off the dying human, the humans had found two so far. And after listening to them talk, I had a hunch after hearing that they had all been found near vending machines. I circled around back, and there wedged between the wall and the vending machine was a clear bottle with a glow-stick in it. So I grabbed it, threw it to them, and told them "Found one. Think they're all near vending machines." After giving it to their team's designated holder, Megan gave the word, and we went on to check all the vending machines. Eventually, we did find one more near them, but that sixth one was nowhere to be found, and by now, the hoard had split off into various hunting parties. Then we saw that top hat zombie yet again. And by that moment, it must have clicked in Megan's mind that all he was doing since the start of the mission was running away. He ran across the street to get away from us, then Megan called out to one of the strike teams on the other end of the street to get that zombie. And a pair of humans sprinted after him. Surely enough, he did have the last bottle. The mission had concluded, as the humans dispersed.
Hunting with the wolves.
I went off with the wolves, since by now, I was basically spending most of my freeplay escorting human players to and from classes. And she started to tell me how her strike team was mostly comprised of people who knew each other in high school, and that there were more of them, as well as the story behind their name. She invited me along to go dossier hunting. And I seem to recall we went down Baker to meet up with one of their other members who was just getting out of class. Since there was a dossier around the hockey stadium, that was where we were going to meet him, but we chilled at the bottom for a bit. There was another human down there with us. Another lone wolf type player with a trench coat and a raider like me. He introduced himself as Zazi, and would chill down there, aggressively busting out of the doors and chasing zombies who were entering and exiting the bottom. The two of us actually had a lot in common about our loads, which struck a lot a conversation between us. Here were the differences though. He kept a pair of ammo barrels taped together, where as I kept my extra drums in a backpack. The reasons for our respective differences were that he was a student and could just walk back to his dorm if he needed to, but I was more optimized for travel, as I would usually spend the entire day out in the field. It was a long walk back to where I was staying after all, so I couldn't do things that other students could as easily, like check online for updates on the forum, or resupply. So I equipped myself for the long game, you could say.
After Zazi parted ways to go to the upper baker, we decided to grab something to eat at the cafeteria, after Megan told me that non-students could pay with real money. So, I bought a pizza, and a soda, and the four of us surrounded a table, setting our gear down beside us. It was obvious there were a lot of curious eyes on us, and after noticing a handfull of those eyes were zombies, I pointed them out. But they left before we finished, and the man we were waiting for, Jate, was en route. We exited cautiously through the cafeteria doors, and luckily we were not followed. So we got across the street and met up with our guy. Now Jate was a big man for a freshman. Not fat per say, just tall, broad shoulders, short hair, deep voice, definitely an athlete. We greeted, I exposited my backstory again, and told them this was my second game, but my first weeklong experience. I gave a brief run down about what my previous experience was like, and some of the things I had learned from it, but as I had no experience hunting dossier files, I was going to act as their lookout. Jate nodded, and they ventured back into the alcove between Grover and the Bird Arena.
As I spent a lot of time walking in this game, I knew to take brakes when I could. So with only one entrence and exit into the area, I took a knee and gazed outward. Scanning for heads and necks for bandanas on the crowds exiting baker, or walking away/towards grover and the park or the stadium.
If you are confused by the why I was checking necks, you probably didn't play in Athens back before we made a change to familiarize our ruleset with other campuses. But back then, active zombies could wear their bandana on their forehead or their neck. And when shot, they would completely remove it. This confused a lot of people from other schools at first, since they considered having the bandana around their neck to be a sign of inactivity, so naturally, when one of our home brew zombies who preferred the neck would tag them, it would lead to some frustrations and such. So that's why we only do heads now. But yeah, those of us who remember the old days knew that wasn't the case. You had to check neck, head, either arm, or sometimes pockets to see if someone was inactive and just biding their time to respawn. The tag rules at the time were that you had to grab the bandana on a human's arms by this game, so strike teams would stress a lot of importance over walking with bandana buddies, where they would walk in double columns with bandana arms on the inside.
With that tangent out of the way, I digress. Point is, thanks to only watching one direction, positioned far enough out of the way of the road to notice someone charging or walking up on me, I had enough leeway to relax, but that didn't mean I had to lower my guard. Thus far, I didn't see anyone. And as Jate and Stephen walked up behind me, I recall Jate singing some praise about how badass I looked kneeling down in my trench coat with gun at the ready. They hadn't found anything though, so we decided to venture to a different coordinate.
We hit a few more locations, and all of them had turned up empty. Though there was one location at Clippinger Labs that they noted they needed to check the next day, since by the loading dock, there was a single long garage door that was only open at certain times. Now I had no reference to gauge how good the Wolves were at hunting dossiers, but I could tell they certainly had a knack for it. They knew the campus, and they knew how to really get into those areas few would dare to tread. Setting the standard for the methods and effort for Dos Hunting for a few games to come. Those of you who are out of towners and wonder why Athens hides their Dossiers so maliciously? Its these guys. I think their insatiable appetite for them started when one of them lifted an outdoor trash can and found one hiding under it. Or perhaps it was the outdoor welcome mat that one of them lifted. Anyways, they kinda normalized the whole checking under mats and trash cans in the game. And I synced so well with their team through hunting for these things that I often opted to join them in missions and side objectives. Not to mention, for being a new team, they had a lot of connections with the other freshman teams, and this landed them into the thick of a lot of problems, as I would experience some time around day four. And speaking of day four, let me go ahead and explain what that was like.
Day 4: The Zedling Horde
The weather had warmed up compared to the start of the week, so I wasn't as cold when I Awoke on day 4. My muscles had basically stopped aching at this point, but I was feeling quite stiff thanks to all the gear I was carrying. So, rather than gear up right away, I logged onto the forums. Mostly to catch who lived and who died, the latest stories, and other tidbits passed along by fellow survivors. There was this notice a fellow player had posted that I remember looking over for a bit, explaining what a terrible menace the Zedlings had become, and warning not to go near the green for any reason. I didn't know what a zedling was at the time, but just so you know, here's the thing about Zedlings. So in Athens HVZ, it is run as a community event, not a campus event. Meaning anyone could grab a nerf gun, a bandana, and jump in. ANYONE. And there's a group of middle school students that we referred to as Zedlings when they died. These students. Some of them were good players. I mean Sydney, who would go on to run with J-Con and Razor. And little Chris, an elementary school kid who played with his brother Tony, a high schooler who was recruited onto the Wolves sometime that game. There was also Ultra Violet, a strike team of former zedlings which were a force to be reckoned with in some scenarios, even if they did carry a bit of a stigma for reasons I won't get into. So I don't say this as an insult to middle school players in general.
But you see, there were middle schoolers that would just casually play the game and camp the green after school. There were a lot of them... And they sucked at keeping a parameter. So when one gets turned by an actual zombie, it isn't long before you have an entire daytime mini-horde haunting the Green. That is the zedling horde. And as for zedlings individually? Well, you know smaller creatures get a bonus to their AC, right? So imagine. Its the daytime. Not much going on. You've encountered a few solo zombies hunting here and there, but not a lot of action. Then you make the unfortunate mistake of taking a short cut through the Green to get back onto Campus. Suddenly, the mini-zeds stop doing what they are doing and come sprinting right at you from various points in the field. Suddenly you get off a rough head count and find you are about to get swarmed by thirty zombies. You take a few pot shots at them from afar, but you don't hit anything. And in no time, they close in the distance, because being younglings, they have that boundless childlike energy.
This was the mistake I made when I decided to risk going to court street for Chipotle, then opted to eat it at the monument. Still carefull to watch every direction, I didn't notice them at first. How could I? I was looking for tall college students. But they were just letting out of school by the time I got my first bite. And when I was about halfway through my burrito, I heard a high pitched voice call out "HUUUMAAAAN!" Not being able to wrap the burrito, I threw it in the bag and turned with a blaster poised. Already I had one right at my back, so reflexively I shot it with a dart. Then I looked up and noticed... Yeah, 30 of them. And they had started charging before I had even taken that first shot. Alarmed, I gripped my bag, narrowly avoiding a little arm as it swung for my bandana. I heard something rip, but I was not about to get swarmed by a pack of middle school kids, so I withdrew, dashing forward. The bag got torn open, and my burrito spilled across the bricks. I cursed under my breath and tried to recover it by firing a few darts, but they might as well have gone straight through these kids. Realizing my futility, and lamenting the loss of my breakfast, I took off towards Galbreath chapel, then sprinted across the street and through the Bryan courtyard. I took shelter inside the bushes of the infamous Cambodia hill, and waited for my heart to calm down. Zedlings were... Terrifying. You know, ever since I started the game, a part of me knew it was just a game, even if another part of it feels real. But having such a savage, blood thirsty attack spring at me out of nowhere with no mercy, honor, or regard to my basic biological needs? That was the closest I had ever felt to feeling like I was in a real zombie apocalypse.
What Geoff was up to:
I think it was about that time when Geoff had an encounter with Chauncy, a former member of our previously unnamed strike team. Though he wasn't there to play, he did hang out with Geoff at his place. Geoff's time playing the game was very in and out, since he was traversing back and forth between Hocking classes he was still taking, and human hunting. Unfortunately after two brain surgeries, Geoff recalls even less of those days than I do.
I did try to double back and grab my burrito after I gathered the courage, but by then, the Mutant Squirrels of Athens had claimed it as their own. Not wanting to risk being seen, I went back to the green and texted Jate to see if he was up to anything. Stephen and Jate were heading back to check out the Clippenger loading dock. So I decided to join them. I know I prided myself in solo play, back in the old days, but by then, I was just glad to be with capable humans. We arrived on site, and surly enough, there some 20 something feet in the air, was a single manilla envelope sticking out from one of the pipes. We looked up, wondering how the hell we were going to reach it. I mentioned that it would be easy to climb, if I could get a six foot ladder to get to the pipes, but someone got the idea that I could just climb Jate's back instead. So, with one of the wolves taking watch, we had someone get on their arms and knees, with Jate kneeling down after him. I stepped onto the the back, then Jate's shoulders as he slowly and carefully stood. Being something of a monkey as a kid, it was pretty easy to lift myself to get a foothold, then shimmy my way up to it. The last part was kinda a reach. I managed to grab it though, then sent it down below. "Now time for the hard part. Getting down." I murmured, as I carefully navigated the vertical landscape. By the time I reached Jate, I allowed myself to just drop. There was another one I had to climb up to get. It was a dossier hidden up in a tree. So, I had to put my skills to use yet again.
There was one incident that happened around Day 4, when Oracle, a fellow sole survivor of a strike team, Shadow Cell, reached out to Megan for an armed escort. So here's the context of who Shadow Cell were, and what happened to them leading up to the story. Strike Team Shadow Cell was another freshman team. They would carry light weapons and socks, and mostly geared themselves to be intel gatherers who stick to the shadows and carry out missions behind the scenes. They actually structured their tealm similar to the zombies in the old days, where they had one member who's only job was to watch the forums and feed information to their operatives. They called her Oracle. A cool idea I must say. Their leader, a man named Chase, is a tall man frequently seen without a shirt, and a massive jewish afro. He is a terrifying zombie, especially when playing a special like a witch. Why? Because he's built like a horse. Accelerating at a slow speed, but maxing out at a frightening pace. I can only speak for his zombie ability because I hadn't really ever seen him as a human. And to understand why, we need to go back to the second night.
So human players get used to getting heckled by non-players. You're running around with toy guys, playing war games in their minds. And the ones who know what the game is will often try to sell misinfo like "Look out! Zombie right behind you!" I imagine that when Chase was in the field, scoping out an area with his team, he heard the non-player walk by and say "Hey, they're all over there." and just brushed it off the way we are normally conditioned to do. So he and his team rounded the corner, and the horde really was all over there. Shadow-cell got was neither prepared nor equipped to walk straight into the day two horde at the time, and so, they were wiped out. All of them except for one. Oracle. Who from then on found that she needed an armed escort anytime she left her dorm for anything. By day 4, it was the wolves turn. And with only Megan available, and the warning that her dead team was in fact plotting murder, I got invited along via a text message. I was chilling in baker at the time, so I decided "Why not?" So I met up with Megan, and walked into the South Green area.
Now I think we were entering through the eastern entrance to Bush Hall. There was some construction happening in the court yard at the time, so I can't remember entirely what place it was when looking at the satellite images over Athens. But we entered the scene uneventfully. And I stowed away the raider into my trench coat and readied the a sock just in case. And after waiting a few moments, Oracle ventured out beyond the door with a maverick. It was inconspicuous and would be enough to get her from point A to point B without getting too noticed. She and Megan talked for a bit, but then I spotted two zombies walking into the courtyard behind us, and two on the other side. I told the girls to back up slowly. They pushed us into a little L shaped area, due to the construction lay out, and basically gave that "Well well well, look what we have here." kinda talk. Now truth be told, the reason I had everyone backing up with me was tactical. I wanted to get them into an area where they could only charge in one direction. But from their perspective, it was a display of weakness, here were three lightly armed humans, two of which were girls, and they were clearly cowering at the site of the zombies. The Zombies felt they were in control of the situation. Chase wasn't there, so I could only assume this was the rest of Shadow-cell. So I whipped out the raider, causing them to put a few feet of distance between us. But not too much. They must have assumed it wasn't modded, and they didn't want to give up that psychological level of control they had over the battlefield. Unfortunately for them, I had narrowly survived a zedling horde charge earlier, so I was anything but scared.
The four zombies continued to taunt us, waiting for an opening to charge and take out their VIB (Very important brainz). I allowed them enough time to get complacent with where they were standing, because truth be told, they were in my accurate range the whole time, and I wanted to catch them unaware. Megan, not being one to back down from a fight, traded quips. Though it looked like Oracle truly felt cornered here. Like she knew something about them that we didn't. It didn't detour me. The only thing left for me to do was win the initiative and get the first strike in, and push the attack before they knew what hit them. "Okay, guess we'll be going now." I announced, then took aim, and casually popped one in front with zero effort. The zombies looked alarmed for a second, then sprinted forward without a moment of hesitation. As Oracle's demeaner hinted, they were no lesser zombies and knew precisely when to take action and how to use their athletic speed to their advantage. But that's why I had led our backs to a bottle neck. It didn't matter how fast they were, or how skilled at dodging the were if I had only one direction to face, and could keep my cool. I fired one dart, then another, striking two of them before they could even get close. The fourth one hung back as I fired a dart which conveniently veered off in a 90 degree curve away from him. (As the old streemlines tend to do.) But seeing as how I was now moving forward, he was moving backwards, the battle was basically over. I looked at my watch to gauge respawn time, and after seeing how much time they had, I lowered my gun and motioned for the girls to follow me. "Think I'll let you live for now. Good luck in your hunts!" I said in a friendly manner. I actually did mean it as a sign of respect, for a well coordinated ambush deserves some kind of reward. But he perceived it as a taunt and reacted defensively. Still, the girls covered him as we exited the court yard, and we successfully guided Oracle to her destination.
J-Con. (Proto Razor-Flight)
Unfortunately I don't remember the mission on Night 4, but I recall that Stephen was a casualty, and the rest of the wolves would soon fall after. And after the mission, as night fell on Athens, I found myself traveling with a very different type of team. And among them, Gary! It appeared that Strike Team: Muscle Man Savage was no longer a thing, and I never found out what ultimately became of them, but with Gary and Sydney both running around with J-con, I found it easy to run with them. They were different from the Casual Badass vibe of the Wolves. Coming off as more tacti-cool than most strike teams, but more approachable than the Red-Team. At a glance, J-Con appeared to be led by a player we like to call Uncle Rico. Though the true owner of the team was the soft spoken DJ. Funny story though, J-Con was actually the name of their club. It's an anime and Japanese Culture club. In fact, J-Con would later have to change their name, because people in the club who didn't play HVZ didn't want people's first thing they thought of when they heard the name to be the HVZ strike team. But that's a story for another day. Anyways, the reason I mention all this was because this was the night I met one other player. And that was the future Tempest member Bryan King, who would join us by the next game after Geoff had a run in with him as a zombie. As for my first impressions: "Boy. This guy's loud."
"The Badass in the trench coat."
Later on that night as I returned weary from another day of running around Athens, I checked the forums and noticed Megan replied to a zombie taunt towards Oracle from earlier that day, about the trap they had laid out for her. Megan joked, talking about how badass I was, and Oracle replied with "Agreed. Total badass." It was after this moment that I noticed I was garnering a reputation as the badass solo player in the trench coat. Although I think some early stories between Zazi and I got conflated, the reputation kinda stuck. There was also notice from the Wolves about all the Dossiers they found. One of which, the admin Bin commented on, and as word about how I was the one retrieving all the high dossiers got out, he told me just how weird it felt to be climbing trees and wall pipes in a suit, and personally congratulated me. Although from what I understand, the guy was doing this without any help, so... I dunno, maybe he's the real legend. XD