Having remained awake throughout the night, sitting at a small table in the corner of her quarters, watching for Marlhy and Rena’s return with her replacements, Tessa grows antsy. “When the fuck is the sun gonna come up?” Tessa mutters to herself, fighting the urge to fall asleep as her head rests against the palm of her hand for support. Throughout the sleepless night, she can hear the sounds of dragging in the snow, writing it off as the other competitors cleaning up the campfire.
Staring out into the polar night, Tessa feels the need to sleep constantly trying to pull her in, only for the necessity to greet Rena and Marlhy back to keep her going. Fluttering her eyes just to have something to focus on, Tessa gives up on the observation she’d spent roughly two hours devoting her time to in favor of grabbing a quick cup of coffee.
Pressing the button to start the machine, Tessa walks over to a tiny set of drawers and picks out a blank white mug. The barebones lack of a message or design mirrors the look in the woman’s eyes, continuing to stare out of the window from afar, hoping to catch the sight of four competitors appearing over the horizon. Before long, a few minutes pass without Tessa even realizing, prompting her to turn around and begin the process of hoping coffee will make the task easier.
Much to her surprise, the coffee machine has yet to warm up, and furthermore, had not even powered on in the first place. Assuming that, in her daze, she had simply not pressed the correct button, she corrects her presumed mistake to no avail. Pulling the machine forward to check the cord, still plugged in much as it was the day prior, Tessa begins to wonder whether or not the power for the cape had gone out.
Wiping her eyes in an attempt to fight off the tunnel vision, Tessa braces against the cold through her front door and behind her cabin home. The wind bringing more of a bite than it usually tends to, Tessa wraps the puffy sweater tightly around her body as the generator appears around the corner of her cabin. Untouched, Tessa finds nothing unusual about the machine, baffled by the true reason for the electricity being completely out.
Turning around to return to her home, accepting that coffee will not be an option tonight, she notices something more off about the cape than she originally thought it to be. Despite all the questions surrounding the fake cameras and microphones, Tessa wonders why this terrible feeling, one worse than the uncertainty of their current predicament, looms over her like a dark cloud on a sunny day.
Marching back to the front of her house and continuing her march into the center of the cape, Tessa notices the campfire still raging, having yet to be put out. Having assumed one of the three would have taken care of it earlier, Tessa marches to one of the cabins, Liz’s to be specific. As soon as she sets her sights on the wooden cabin, Tessa notices a thick black smoke rising into the air behind the locked door.
Hurrying forward, Tessa begins pounding on Liz’s door, shouting her name loudly in hopes that the woman inside will hear her. “Tessa, what’s wrong?” Liz asks, wiping her eyes and emerging from Warren’s cabin with him right behind. “What’s going on?” Rick shouts, walking through his front door before noticing the same thick smoke that caught Tessa’s attention, immediately realizing what the issue is.
“Fire!” Rick shouts, hurrying to the cabin and kicking the door in, sending the loose wood flying into the structure as the raging inferno inside becomes clear. “Oh shit!” Tessa shouts, looking to Warren and Liz, instructing them to get buckets from the lake and start dumping it on the fire. Doing as told, Warren and Liz fight off the timid temperatures in their scurry to the edge of the cape, whilst Tessa and Rick do what they can to lower the flames.
Picking up snow from the ground and chucking it into the cabin, Tessa and Rick fight off the horrifying heat, wiping off sweat as they desperately try to persevere. “Holy shit!” Warren shouts, he and Liz returning with two buckets just in time to look directly at the opposite side of the cape. Turning around to confront the pair’s sights, Tessa and Rick find their hopes depleted as they realize that every vacant cabin from the night prior had been set ablaze in an attempt to burn the cape down.
“Gather your shit” Rick shouts, repeating the order even louder when Warren asks for clarification. “Grab what you need, we need to get moving now!” Rick repeats for a third time, the conclusion of his instruction just barely beating the Neptune Box, which goes off for no reason, blaring off into the dark night sky, and acting as a beacon centralized on the home of every visiting competitor.
“Come on, let’s go!” Rick shouts for a fourth and final time, finally spitting enough motivation to the trio to start packing up their belongings and begin hitting the road. Grabbing a few changes of clothes, a few basic survival necessities and a few other minor emergency tools, Tessa returns to the center of the cape with the three and aim for the cabin across the lake.
Kicking up snow in the direction they aim to take, the four group members take a moment to look back at the cape, watching it slowly burn to the ground beneath the dark, starry sky. “Wait! What about Rena and all of them?” Tessa shouts, looking towards Rick, trusting him to know what he’s doing marching them out of the cape. Without missing a beat, Rick tells Tessa that the four can handle themselves, and they’ll know where to find them when they get back.
Returning to the fight against the elements, Tessa and the rest march onwards with the raging fire behind them serving as the perfect backdrop to their daring escape. Leaving the cape behind, moving on to fending for themselves in the rugged, frost-bite inducing environment officially turns what was once a game into a fight for survival, with the only lifeline to the outside world resting in the hopeless hands of people that sat back and let it happen.
= Neptune City is created by Zachary Serra, all rights to the series belong to Zachary Serra and the entity of Pacer1 Media from the start of Season 1 onwards =
“What the fuck is that!?” Harper says, forced out of her sleep by the sudden, shocking and pulsating sounds of the Neptune Box going off a few miles out. “Do you hear that?” Harper asks, watching Len’s eyes dash open, realizing exactly what it is and where. “For the second time tonight?” Harper asks, watching Len tilt his head and make for the exit to the tent.
Standing out in the open, looking towards the cape before gazing at the sky, Len asks Harper how long they had been asleep. “I don’t have a watch, I don’t know” Harper replies, watching Len stare out at the completely dark night, looking at it as if it shouldn’t exist. “What’s your problem with the sky, Len?” Harper asks, letting out a stretch as she joins her counterpart outside of the tent, beginning to notice something feeling off.
“It’s been dark for a really long time” Len mutters, scanning the sky for any signs of light, with a sunrise being due for any moment, only to show no signs of arriving. “What does that mean?” Harper asks, her breath leaving a thick white cloud in her sights as Len begins voicing his worried concern. “I think we’re starting to get that eternal darkness thing the producers were talking about” Len declares, realizing the sunrise that is due to come, almost certainly won’t.
“So we’re just in the dark for the next however fucking long?” Harper asks, watching Len’s sights refuse to leave the sky. “It’s two months. And the answer you’re looking for is ‘yes’” Len replies, placing his hands to his hips as the realization of being at the start of a sun-less two months becomes a nuisance. Before long, Len’s sights remove themselves from the sky and return to the direction of the cape, hearing the Neptune Box continue to sound off.
Suddenly, the blaring alarms of the cape’s namesake raises a few decibels in pitch, becoming less of an alarm and more of a squealing, nails-on-chalkboard. Making his dumbfounded confusion audible, Len climbs to the top of a snow bank, trying to get a better look at what is causing the god awful screech. Doing his best to look, the issue of what’s going on with the cape becomes secondary, as a new issue solely of Len’s concern takes priority.
Falling to his hands and knees, Len notices the reverberating sounds of the Neptune Box beginning to shift the snow currently supporting his weight. “Stand back!” Len shouts, spotting out Harper ready to climb atop the snowbank and putting an end to it immediately. Turning around to question what he could be falling into if the snow bank collapses, Len’s calm demeanor takes a shift when his horrifying discovery comes to life.
Speechless with his mouth agape, Len carefully turns back to face Harper once he notices the steep, snow-covered cliff sixty feet below serving as anything other than his safety net. “Harper, move away from the slope very carefully” Len instructs, asking the woman not to ask questions, and instead just do as told. Carefully moving back, Harper watches the snow at the bottom of the slope begin to ruffle, the support beneath Len becoming less supportive by the second.
Slowly crawling forward, Len attempts to get himself in position to slowly slide down the sled-like formation of snow to safety, only for the massive chunk of ice supporting the slope to begin shaking rapidly. “Watch out!” Len shouts, realizing the shaking of the slope only grows in pace the longer it goes on, watching the slope give way as Harper disappears over the edge of the cliff.
Screaming out the man’s name, Harper is helpless to do anything more than watch Len sink below the lip of the cliff, dropping near-seventy feet below with the chunk of ice he stood on seconds prior, disappearing beneath the all-encompassing soft blanket of white. Carefully crawling over to the new beginning of the cliff, Harper looks down to notice Len having completely vanished, with the only remnants of the glacier-like support being a small chunk unsubmerged.
Looking around for a way to reach Len, Harper quickly realizes that the only method of reaching Len is by taking the hard way down. Looking back to the lake, the direction of the cabin and the direction of the cape, Harper screams for help for the obvious lack of response. Feeling the cold winds dashing across her face with no remorse, Harper acts on her instincts alone, standing to her feet and taking in a deep, heavy breath.
Glancing down at the sea of puffy white below, Harper closes her eyes, refusing to let any fear of heights dissuade her. The exhilarating sensation of the cold, bitter wind scratching away at her skin, Harper feels the warmth of her blood circulating, taking her mind off of the fear of what rests far below in the underbelly of Barrow. Ready to accept whatever comes next, Harper lunges forward and says a quick prayer on her way down, plummeting to the soft tundra below.
Her hair flying uncontrollably with wherever the wind elects to take it, Harper watches the lip of the cliff quickly overtake her as seconds turn into minutes. Finally, Harper crashes into the thick coating of white, disappearing beneath the surface and coming to a stop entrenched in darkness. The hardest part out of the way, Harper gathers her bearings, the impact having taken some of her breath away, and begins crawling her way out of her frozen grave.
Finally back to being able to see the starry night, Harper smiles and catches her breath before remembering why she took the journey down. Shoveling out whatever snow she can find, the frightened girl, desperate to ensure her fellow competitor doesn’t freeze to death, digs for ages where she thinks Len to have landed. Stopping for a second to compose herself, Harper overhears the largely muffled sounds of someone desperate to grab her attention.
Burying her hands into the snow, doing whatever she can to unearth the man clinging to hope to live another day, Harper finally begins to her the cries for help become clearer. “Keep shouting, Len!” Harper calls out, refueling Len with the hope he needs to keep expending his energy until he feels her gloved hand scrape the snow away from his skin. Mostly uncovered, Len claws his way out with his pins-and-needles feeling fingers with assistance from his hero.
“Can you walk?” Harper asks, swiping the rest of the snow off of him as he struggles to find the strength to even sit up. “Ah shit, it hurts. It hurts” Len calls out, his back having been royally screwed up from the fall. Whilst the wounded man tends to his injuries, Harper desperately looks around in hopes of uncovering anywhere worthy of settling into.
“Come on, Len!” Harper calls out, putting the man’s arm around her shoulder and helping him to his feet, taking into the groans of pain as he puts even more pressure on his already battered body. “You can do this, Len. I believe in you, you can do this” Harper assures, partially walking on behalf of the man as they near a formation in the rocks offering them enough shelter from the freezing winds for at least the night.
Refusing to waste any time to stop, Michael pauses the midst of their escape to unload his latest meal into the snow, staining it a mixture of red and brown. “I’m fine, let’s keep moving” Michael replies to Rena’s verbal concern, looking towards Marlhy, who follows the group whilst walking backwards, keeping her rifle pointed straight in case the sight of a massive angry butcher appears over the horizon.
“We can’t go back to camp” Austin says, “I’m not gonna put everyone else at risk like that.” Looking towards Rena, Austin notices a pain-ridden glimmer in her eyes, telling her that he knows something’s wrong. “I’m pressing the button” Rena replies, the words bringing Austin and Michael to a stop, whilst being the first things said to get Marlhy to turn away from the ghost town behind them.
“You can’t leave!” Michael says, forcing his words out despite the awful effects of the concussion making him want to simply pass out. “Can we not forget that you almost got butchered and eaten? Like… literally butchered and eaten…” Rena says, looking to Marlhy, and making sure to remind everyone that she had to kill two people. “Thank you for using the proper reason” Marlhy replies, showing her gratitude for Rena not outright calling her a heartless murderer.
“You did what you had to do, Mar” Rena replies, “And I think we all need to get the fuck out of here before something else goes wrong.” Looking at the three competitors surrounding her, Rena hopes for the thought of winning one million dollars to not have already consumed them. “We can’t stay here. This is not what we signed up for, and one way or another, we’ll all most likely be killed if we don’t leave” Rena says, watching the trio hang their heads.
“I know it’s a big deal, but look around you. Just fucking look!” Rena shouts, watching everyone look at the effects the game has already had on each other. Austin carrying a near-helpless Michael sporting a white shirt stained with his vomit, and Marlhy aiming a gun at nothing in case she needs to take another life. “Okay” Michael says, the first to relent and accept that the game is no longer worth competing in.
One down, Rena looks to Austin and waits for his response, hurt when his depressed nod of compliance is the only thing he can muster to respond with. Finally, her gun aimed to the ground, Marlhy puckers her lips and tilts her head, keeping eye contact with Rena as she inconspicuously pushes her head forward, giving Rena the confirmation she needed to get on the way.
Nearing the landing strip, Rena pauses for a second and turns towards the trio, taking in a deep breath and flashing them a smile. Within moments, Rena looks to the group and places her hand over the button, watching the three follow her lead. “In it together until the end” Rena says aloud, pushing her hand down with her departing brothers and sister and officially taking herself out of the equation.
“That’s it” Marlhy says, the pain she expected to resonate through her words being replaced with a sense of fulfillment, knowing that the trials and tribulations have finally been put to rest. “And now we wait” Rena says, unsure of what to do next other than take a seat in the soft snow, setting the tone for the other to follow suit, sitting in a small circle, waiting to be plucked out of the game like any other defeated chess piece.
Woken up by the thunderous sounds of someone pounding away at the front door, Natalie jolts in her chair whilst Charlie drops to the floor. Hushing him down, Natalie leaps over his prone body laid out on the floor and hurries to the door, staring at the face of Tessa through the peephole. “What are you guys doing out here?” Natalie asks, watching Tessa and co. rush into the living room and make a break for ay source of warmth they can find.
“The cape burned down!” Tessa replies through her struggle to rip off her puffy coat. “What are you talking about?” Charlie asks, looking across the lake at the black smoke rising into the sky, splashing the cape like a smoke signal for all to see. “What the fuck happened?” Natalie asks, walking away from the window as Charlie remains looking out, watching Tessa hastily explain that they all went up when they were asleep.
“That’s what happened, but I’m asking you how it happened” Natalie repeats, watching Tessa throw her arms out as she collapses onto the couch, unable to give her the answer she was looking for. “This is ridiculous” Charlie says, walking up the four and almost losing his composure whilst he stares them down. “You’re telling me all of our shit went up in flames and burned to the ground, and you’ve got no fucking clue how it happened?” Charlie calls, Natalie holding his arm to calm him down.
“I don’t know what you want me to say” Tessa admits, “I’d been waiting for Rena and Marlhy to get back and noticed the power was out. That’s when I realized something was off.” Ready to flip out knowing everything he owned was set alight across the lake, Charlie gives up on the frustration and sinks into a chair, wallowing in the knowledge that his belongings were one with the embers now.
“Where’s Harper and Len?” Warren asks, using a towel to wipe away the hot water from his face as Tessa, Rick and Liz realize they had never returned to the cape. “You never passed them?” Charlie asks, Natalie adding in the possibility of having possibly seen them on their journey over. “No, we haven’t seen them since they left” Rick says, his worry mirroring the worry of the rest of the group, knowing Harper and Len to still be out in the tundra with no way of knowing what had happened.
“What do we do now?” Warren asks, his exhaustion turning itself into anger as he notes that Rena and Marlhy didn’t return with Michael and Austin either. “Hold up, Michael and Austin didn’t come back?” Natalie asks, further throwing fuel onto the flames of confusion as yet another problem slowly uncovers itself. “So our home burned to the ground, we’re missing half our group, and the sun ain’t coming back for two months?” Charlie asks, sadly unsurprised at how much had gone wrong.
Hitting the hammer on the head with his first two concerns, Tessa finds herself unable to get past the final note. “Are you talking about the darkness thing the producers were saying?” the woman asks, her eyes taking the trip to the other end of the home as Charlie points to it, pointing out the lack of sun despite it currently being fifteen minutes until noon.
“I thought the long night wasn’t for another month?” Warren says, leaping from his seat and running at the clock. “Guys, it’s February 5th” Charlie says, noting how much their bodies have been thrown off. The wind only gaining in speed as it slams against the window like a baseball, the creepy feeling that this is starting to turn sour quickly is only aided by the missing half of the game.
“So what now?” Rick asks, standing in the doorway of the bathroom as everyone else bows their heads, unable to conjure up a worthy response. “Oh you fucking bastards” Rick says, turning to walk through the door as Liz starts to tell Rick to ease on the name calling, only for the eldest man of the group to lose it. “Shut up, Liz. You know damn well Michael and Austin wouldn’t out there if it wasn’t for you crying wolf!” Rick shouts, watching Liz burst from her seat.
“I wasn’t lying you fucking jerk!” Liz retorts, walking up to the man and getting in his face. “At least I’m not a selfish asshole trying to sabotage the game for the rest of us!” Liz concludes, ultimately crossing the lines of what is an isn’t acceptable, stumbling upon ground she is perhaps better off leaving untouched. “Hell, how do we know you didn’t start the fire, huh?” Liz asks, pointing the wrong finger, realizing such almost immediately.
In a way he has yet to react with, Rick stares at her with disgust, mouth slightly hung as he shakes his head at her and storms through the front door. Not one to agree with, or even necessarily like Rick, Tessa notices the hurt expression of being betrayed to be nothing shy of genuine, ultimately choosing to quickly throw her boots back on and rush through the door after him.
“Rick! Stop!” Tessa shouts, running after an angered man heading back into the direction of the cape. “Fuck off Tessa, go back inside!” Rick shouts, having suffered experiencing the straw that broke the camel's back, and no longer in the mood to talk as a result. Reaching out for his arm, Tessa pulls back when the man quickly turns around and tells her to leave him alone and go back to the kids.
“I don’t give a fuck whether or not you entitled pieces of shit like me or not, but to think I’d burn down the cape to win a stupid fucking game is where I draw the line.” Ready to turn around and walk away, Rick can’t help but be drawn back into Tessa, who stands there silently, unmoving and waiting for Rick to continue, willing to listen. “I don’t know what your generation has, but mine has values. I hesitate to believe you all, but I would never take the cheap road to win anything!”
In most cases, the people of Rick’s age that Tessa would have met outside of Barrow would have said much the same, but their declarations of what they value in life never appeared as sincere as Rick’s did right now. A man that doesn’t care to be liked or appreciated, but instead, caring about the way he is viewed as an individual. He may not be the most compassionate, but the value he holds higher than the rest is his dignity, and purposefully setting the cape alight goes against all of that.
“Now seriously, fuck off!” Rick shouts, knowing the cabin is the only feasible source of warmth, but unwilling to share it with individuals suspecting him of such a disgraceful act. Continuing to walk off as the remaining competitors stare at the pair through the window, Rick watches Tessa run in front of him, cutting him off from the rest of the wasteland before wrapping her arms around him and catching him off guard.
Surprised by this action, Rick stands there, just staring at Tessa as she hugs him, hoping for her actions to serve as the apology on Liz’s behalf. “I’m sorry for what Liz said” Tessa says, throwing a verbal apology in for good measure, “You didn’t deserve that.” Knowing most people would have just let him walk off and deal with his pain alone, Rick finds the sincerity in Tessa’s apology in the same way she found sincerity in his declaration of innocence.
Finally taking the hint, Rick returns the favor, hugging Tessa back and thanking her for the apology. After a few seconds, the pair break the hug, and Tessa asks Rick to rejoin the group in an effort to get the other half back safely. Starting to feel the effects of the cold only growing harsher as time passes, Rick nods and tucks his arms together, returning to the cabin beside Tessa, ready to find a solution.
“Where the fuck are they?” Marlhy shouts, hushing herself down when she recalls the cannibals possibly hunting them down. “It’s been like an hour!” Marlhy continues, looking towards Rena as she feels the bite of the cold traveling down her shirt whilst she paces for warmth. “Guys, if they don’t come soon, I’m gonna take Michael back to the cape” Austin says, watching Michael refuse the plan, assuring everyone that he’s still well enough to wait for the producers.
“Well if they don’t get here soon, we’re all gonna freeze to death” Marlhy says, standing to her feet and readying her rifle in case anyone happens to appear over the horizon. “I’m getting pissed off” Rena says, trying to persevere through the cold that had managed to turn her entire face numb within the first fifteen minutes of waiting. Her legs trembling with anger, Marlhy grits her teeth, continuing to stare off at the sky in hopes of spotting the lights of a plane nearing close.
“Where the fuck are they!?” Marlhy shouts again, kicking the metal pole the red button sits atop in frustration, quickly becoming shocked when the post easily topples over to the ground. “Fuck, did I break it?” Marlhy shouts, the desire to leave now that their fates have been sealed driving her to wanting nothing more than to get out of the tundra. Without responding, Rena reaches down and picks up the post, immediately noticing something horribly off about it.
“What?” Marlhy asks, “Is it broken?” Turning the post upside down to reveal an empty end attached to nothing, Rena replies in the most despairaging way. “It’s not plugged into anything” Rena replies, watching the sour expressions on everyone’s faces turn into ones of immediately grief as the woman easily pops the red button off the top, revealing it to have been nothing more than a prop.
“The button doesn’t work?” Austin asks, immediately one-upped by Rena, insisting that not only does the button not work, but that it was never real in the first place. “Wait, so they’re not coming?” Marlhy asks, watching Rena depressingly shake her head. “So you’re saying we’re still stuck here?” Michael asks, watching Rena look at him, holding the pole in one hand and the button in the other.
“I’m saying we can’t get out!” Rena replies, watching the dread come over the faces of Austin and Marlhy, whilst Michael retires to the notion that there truly is no escape from Barrow. Dropping to her knees, Marlhy watches Rena take a seat in the snow once more, ready to give up. Fighting his way to his feet with the will to live still very much intact, Michael begins brushing Austin off, heading for the cape.
“Michael, you need to rest” Rena says, watching the man turn around and bark at her that she needs to get off her ass and keep fighting. “If these asshole aren’t coming for us, then you need to choose whether you lay down and die or fight to live!” Michael shouts, throwing up almost immediately thereafter. “Michael, we need to get you some help” Austin says, watching the man he’s trying to look out for turn around and snap back at him.
“Didn’t you fucking hear me?” Michael asks, “It’s OVER! They’re not coming!” Staring at the distraught trio he’s just about ready to leave behind to freeze, Michael fights through his injuries and tells the group the way it’s going to be from now on. “We’ve got uncivilized cannibals hunting us like wolves, and we’re just sitting on our asses. So either get up and let’s go home, or sit here and die… Either way, I know what I’m doing!”
Pushing Austin away, Michael begins walking back to the cape, leaving behind the rest of the group to decide for themselves. Shrugging his shoulders towards the girls, Austin hurries over to Michael and helps support him on his journey back to the cape. Looking to each other to make the decision for them, Rena and Marlhy both decide to keep the fight going, standing to their feet and catching up the men, returning to camp as the stakes get raised even further.