Recap: In post-apocalyptic America, Clyde, the overseer of Fallout Shelter 17C, discovers that someone is murdering the women in the shelter. There are only two women left. If the women are killed, the shelter will no longer be able to participate in the country's breeding program and will thus no longer be supplied by what's left of the United States government. Clyde must find the killer or risk becoming another victim of the End of the World. At the end of Part II, Clyde was on the brink of finding the killer when the breach alarm erupted, signaling the door leading to the outside door has been unexpectantly opened.

 

For the first time that day Clyde felt like things were completely out of his control. Searching for a murderer was one thing, but the shelter being breached was something else entirely. It was an event beyond the realm of possibility. Despite all the talk and rumors, he had never actually believed the “Others” existed. They were a ghost story, a helpful one that encouraged others to embrace the safety of the shelter and flee the dangers of the outside world. If the radiation wasn’t enough, the idea of mutated survivors living on the surface quelled any desire to explore beyond the realm of Clyde’s control.

 

Clyde’s mind raced for a solution but there was no plan in place to prevent an outside invasion. He was so distracted he nearly collided with Wayne at the last intersection before the breach chamber.

 

“What the hell are you doing here?” Clyde yelled over to him.

 

“You said if I ever heard the breach alarm to come running--no matter what.”

 

Clyde would never admit it, but he was glad he wouldn’t have to face whatever lay beyond the breach doors alone. The hallway leading to the breach chamber was empty but that didn’t mean the breach chamber would be.

 

They paused momentarily at the breach chamber doors. Wayne nodded that he was ready and then Clyde opened the doors. The heat hit them like a tidal wave. Hot, dense air filled the breach chamber accompanied by a blinding yellow-tinted light. The doors leading outside were wide open, exposing Clyde and Wayne to the toxic atmosphere that choked the planet. Clyde  buried his mouth in the crux of his elbow joint and rushed into the chamber. He punched in the code for the door and the breach doors slid shut with a great AWHOOM!

 

He grabbed a gas mask and tossed one over to Wayne. They wore the masks until Clyde could run the purification cycle and clear the room. With the air quality of the chamber back to normal, Clyde removed his mask.

 

“Nothing,” Wayne said, removing his own mask. “There’s nothing here. No ‘Others’, no invasion.”

Clyde closed his eyes but stopped himself before beginning his usual breathing routine. He still didn’t fully trust the air--no matter what the computer said.

 

“That’s because nothing was trying to get in,” Clyde explained. “Someone got out.”

 

“Out? How do you know?”

 

Clyde pointed to the wall. One of the radiation suits was missing.

 

“Are the girls safe?” Clyde asked. “You shouldn’t have left them.”

 

“They’re fine,” Wayne said. “I have them locked in their dorm. I’ve got the door passcode protected. I wouldn’t have left but you said--”

 

“I know what I said,” Clyde said. “It doesn’t matter anyway. Not anymore.”

 

“I don’t understand any of this,” Wayne admitted. “Why would someone leave the shelter? It’s suicide trying to make it out there.”

 

Clyde sighed. “I can only think of one person who would prefer the outside world to the shelter.”

 

***

 

Dallas’s prison cell looked exactly as it had earlier in the day except for one important feature: Dallas. The prisoner was no longer in his cell but nothing else seemed out of place. The door to the cell was still locked and all the bars in place.

 

While Clyde and Wayne examined the cell, Bird walked in waving a DVD case.

 

“Who’s ready for movie night?”

 

He froze when he saw Clyde and Wayne standing in front of the empty cell.

 

“Is Dallas with you?” Clyde asked.

 

Bird glanced behind him as if Dallas may have been tagging along the whole time without him being aware.

 

“Uhhh...no.”

 

“Then we have a problem.”

 

Clyde snatched the DVD out of Bird’s hand. It was an old movie from the 80’s about a group of POW’s who use a soccer game to stage an escape from a Nazi POW camp. It was called Escape to Victory.

 

“Do you have a list of movies you’ve signed out for your movie nights?” Clyde asked Bird.

 

“Sure. You’re crazy about documentin’ everything so I keep track like I’m supposedta.”

 

He handed Clyde the list:

 

The Escapist

Count of Monte Cristo

Shawshank Redemption

Escape from Alcatraz

Cool Hand Luke

The Great Escape

 

“Are you aware these are all movie about escaping from prison?”

 

“Well--yeah. But I figured they were just something he could--you know--relate to.”

 

Clyde ordered the cell to be opened. He stepped inside and studied the interior of the cell. He ran his hand over the bars to see if any of them were loose. He studied the artwork on the walls. A slight rustle of the cray paper near the lower corner of the cell caught his attention. He stepped forward and kicked through the cray paper and seemingly through the wall. He ripped the cray paper off the wall to reveal a hole just wide enough for a man to fit through. The hole led into the service corridor behind the wall.

 

“Unbelievable,” Clyde said, turning to Bird. “He Shawshanked your ass!”

 

“Does this mean he’s the killer?” Wayne asked.

 

“This certainly makes him a much more likely suspect, that’s for sure.” Clyde closed his eyes and released his breathe. He had to think. This is what leaders do. Stay calm in times of crisis. Solutions. He needed solutions. His eyes popped open. “Ok. There’s no way to tell for sure Dallas is our killer without questioning him.”

 

“But he’s gone,” Wayne said.

 

“Or he wants us to think he’s gone,” Clyde said. “Would he really risk his life out there? What we need to do is confirm he’s no longer in Section IV. Wayne, you and Bird will sweep this entire section. Every nook, every cranny. Find him or confirm he’s gone. While you’re doing that, I’ll check on the girls. It’s possible if he is our killer that’s where he’s headed. Wayne, what’s the code for the door?”

 

Wayne hesitated.

 

“What’s the code?!”

 

Wayne leaned in close and whispered it in his ear so Bird couldn’t hear.

 

“Ok. Meet me at the girls’ dorm when you’ve finished your sweep.”

 

Clyde walked into the hallway but as soon as he was clear of the doorway, he took off jogging. He knew most likely Aileen and Hope were fine, but he needed to make sure before anything else. If Dallas was capable of hacking the breach chamber, he could probably hack into a dormitory no problem.

 

But Clyde quickly erased that possibility from his mind. About three months before Day Zero, he had attended a seminar on the power of positive thinking where the bald-headed guru had taught the audience the importance of positive projection. Picture in your mind the ideal scenario and that will be the scenario that comes to pass. Clyde did that now.

 

Clyde pictured the door to the dorm sliding open. Both girls would be huddled together on the bed, looking nervous but otherwise alive and well.

 

“Where’s Wayne?” Hope would ask.

 

Aileen would make some catty comment about Clyde’s presence not comforting her.

 

Clyde would take the snide remark in stride. He’d explain the situation. They’d be relieved for the update. They’d thank him.

 

But that positive projection shattered the moment he punched in the code for the door to the girls’ dorm and the door slid open. What was left of Aileen was barely recognizable as a human being. She lay in a heap on the concrete floor between bunks hallowed out like a pumpkin. The blood was everywhere. It pooled around the body and it had already migrated in a steady stream under the nearby bunks. Everything that had once been neatly tucked away inside of her was now leaking out. Her dead eyes stared forever into oblivion.

 

Hope stood over her, her white tank top splattered with blood. Cookie’s missing carving knife rested comfortably in her hand. There were two circular blood stains on the concrete next to Aileen’s corpse where Hope had knelt down to stab Aileen over and over and over again. Her chest rose rapidly up and down as her breathing steadied. Whatever had happened hadn’t happened too long ago.

 

Hope brushed a thick strand of blood-stained hair from her face and greeted Clyde with a smile. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought I had more time.”

 

She allowed the knife to drop to the floor. Clyde glanced back toward the door but then thought better of leaving. He knew if he left the room he’d lose control of the situation. He needed information. He couldn’t go to the rest of the bunker without accurate information. He stepped into the room, stopping only a few inches from the growing puddle of blood.

 

“Are you insane?” he asked her.

 

It wasn’t an accusation, simply an inquisition for the sake of information gathering.

 

“After living down here for three years, I think we’re all a little insane,” Hope said. “But if you’re asking me if I’m capable of having a rational conversation, the answer is yes.”

 

He motioned toward a bed on the other side of the room, away from the blood. She followed him and took a seat on the edge of the bed. He sat down next to her, doing his best to ignore the blood.

 

“I imagine if you did that,” he said, motioning toward the corpse, “then I can assume you killed the other girls, too, yes?”

 

“Yes.”

 

There was no shame or anger attached to the declaration. Just a statement of fact.

Clyde laughed. He had already put most of the puzzle together. It was beautiful in a grotesque sort of way, and he couldn’t help but admire it.

 

“You weren’t trying to escape earlier. You just wanted to make sure we kept you and Aileen together.”

 

“And the knife,” Hope added. “I didn’t have the knife yet.”

 

Clyde nodded. He knew their time together was limited. He’d have to focus only on the blanks he needed filled in. There was no need to explain why she had mutilated the genitals of the victims. She had wanted to make sure everyone thought a man had done those things. In that, she had succeeded. She had even made it seem like the victims had been raped. He certainly didn’t want to ask how she had pulled that off. The fact that she had had the stomach to do it at all told him everything he needed to know about her.

 

“Well, you’ve certainly put me in quite a predicament, haven't you? If I imprison you or banish you, as I should, I’m condemning every person in this shelter to death since you’re now our only--heh--hope for our breeding program. You’ve certainly found a way to make yourself indispensable around here.”

 

She laughed (more of a giggle, really). It was involuntary. It was the laugh of an artist after having slaved over a work for months--years--and then finally seeing it to completion.

 

“Truth be known,” she said, “you were my inspiration, Clyde. When I looked at you, I saw someone with no discernible skills, nothing unique or extraordinary and yet you found a way to make yourself indispensable to this shelter.”

 

“Mmm.”

 

“Then I looked around and saw how valued women were in the new world. Not a single woman was in a position of power. Not one. Even Marge, the most intelligent person in here, answered to you. All those decades of progress wiped out by the end of the world. But I did have one thing of value that the men around here didn’t.”

 

She cradled her lower stomach.

 

“And now your womb is the only womb in town.”

 

“Exactly. The only thing is I’m not sure how popular I’m going to be around here if it becomes common knowledge that I killed all the other young ladies. So I’m going to need someone else to jump on that grenade for me.”

 

Clyde was two steps ahead of her. “I have two brothers who are perfect for the job.”

 

“Good enough,” she said. “But that’s not the only thing I’m going to need. I’m going to need a lot more. And you’re going to be the one who’s going to give it to me, Clyde.”

 

“And I’ll be happy to. As long as I’m in charge down here, I can get you whatever you need. Luckily for you the breeding list just came in and--surprise, surprise--I’m sitting right on top. Of course, part of the deal is each potential mate must be approved by the female so…”

 

“Funny how that worked out.”

 

“Looks like we’ll both be enjoying additional perks.”

 

With the unspoken agreement sealed, Hope stood and began to undress.

 

“So I need to clean up a bit and then I’m going to start screaming. I suggest getting the hell out of here. Stay close, though.”

 

Clyde took one last glance at Aileen before exiting. The next time he saw her he’d have to act surprised. Shocked. He tried to dig up some disgust in himself for making a deal with a murderer but all he found was a hollow emptiness where disgust used to live. After all, Aileen’s corpse was just another meal for the insatiable apocalypse.

 

Clyde ran into Wayne, Bird, and Zeb in the corridor outside the girls’ bunk.

 

“No sign of him,” Wayne said.

 

Clyde almost asked “Who?” before he stopped himself.

 

“He must really be gone,” Bird said. “Crazy bastard. Thought his chances were better out there in the wasteland with the Others rather than in here with us decent folk.”

 

“We did lock him up,” Zeb reminded them.

 

“For murdering his wife,” Wayne said.

 

Clyde muffled his laughter. In his mind he was howling. Lies. Backdoor politics. Subterfuge. How was any of this any different from the days before the world decided to commit suicide?

 

His thoughts were cut off by a high-pitched scream that sliced through the shelter.

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