Captain Hernandiz looked over the four people sitting on the floor of the tent. Her men had captured them lurking around the edges of the bivouac and brought them to her. Only the most desperate of the local tribes, or people who didn’t know anything about the Exfor, would have gotten near the camp. Their clothes – a mixture of relic clothing and materials, leather, furs and even pieces of sports equipment or other items – marked them as being the latter. Hernandiz was sure some of the furs were from animals that weren’t even native to the area, or at least hadn’t been seen in generations. The tattoos, piercings, baubles, feathers, and other adornments they wore were unlike any she had seen.
“I don’t know what ‘Gaylish’ is, but I understand some of what you’re saying,” she said slowly. “Where are you from? What is your name?”
He nodded. “From the far east. To the north.”
“Yes, long ago. We are free now.”
One of the two women said something to Garron, furtively looking between Hernandiz and the two armed soldiers. The two went back and forth for a minute or so, the woman becoming more animated until he motioned to her to be calm and turned back to Hernandiz.
When the World Before finally teetered over the edge and collapsed, Southern California was home to 30 million people – nearly 10 times as many as the greater Montreal area. The concentration of humans in the urban areas was a smorgasbord for the Z’bri, who descended upon the region in numbers that dwarfed the Z’bri population in Hl’kar. Drunk on the sensations and power of tens of millions of human souls packed in like cattle, they quickly overran Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
Amid the panic and unimaginable horror of the End Times orders were sent to the few operating ballistic missile submarines to launch warheads at various targets within what remained of the United States. None responded, either having already succumbed to the Z’bri incursion or out of simple refusal to do so. One, however, did: the SSBN Maine.
The Maine launched five Trident D5 missiles aimed at Southern California. The nearly 500 kiloton warheads airburst up and down the Southern California coast and points inland, obliterating dense population centers, airports and military installations. The northern portion of Camp Pendleton was spared by sheer luck, as the warhead malfunctioned and overshot its target. Over a million people died in the initial blasts, and in the months afterward millions more would perish. Firestorms raged across the chaparral and forests unchecked for the better part of a year.
In the aftermath, the Z’bri remained and ultimately humanity faltered and succumbed to their depredations. The Z’bri of L’san are rivalled only by the Z’bri lords of Hattan and the vast hives of T’oxa to the south, dominating the region and remaining largely unchallenged. No Fatimas appeared among the camps of L’san following the Fall. Nobody knows how many souls the Z’bri keep within their massive bastion of corruption. Hunting parties of stalkers and other monstrosities roam freely across the land outside the enormous living walls, harrying the humans that have eluded the grasp of the Z’bri.
For their part, the free humans of Socal have returned to the old ways, semi-nomadic hunter gatherers divided into a multitude of separate tribes and clans. Without Fatimas to guide them, most have not been connected to the River of Dream, but instead worship the spirits of the oceans, mountains and wildlife around them. The irradiated ruins outside of L’san are populated by savages, driven mad by their proximity to the Z’bri and radiation.
There is one exception though: the people of the Exfor. Descendents of the Marines and their families who survived the initial attack on Camp Pendleton, they have formed a Spartan-like society dedicated to the Mission: finding a way to break the Z’bri’s stranglehold in L’san. In the generations since the Fall, they have continued to hone their skills at fighting the Z’bri, raiding their enclaves to “liberate” human captives and protecting the other free people. The long, grinding war of attrition is made somewhat easier by access to military weaponry and equipment, which the Exfor have become adept at repairing and maintaining. Yet the Exfor are not Keepers. They are not preserving knowledge of the World Before, save what they need to carry out their Mission. They refer to the nuclear fire rained down on the area as the Cleansing, an operation that they need to finish.