With his eyes closed, Jack listens to water crash onto the port he stands upon, the soft wind gusts caressing the same side of his face that bakes in the sun of an early July summer. The hairs on Franklin’s arm grazing him as he sways from side to side, Jack feels weight remove itself from his chest, freeing him to breathe calmly, at peace with the world he’s found himself in.
The tip of his thumb sliding over the ring on his finger, Jack’s eyelids present a dark shade of red, blood vessels targeted by the incredible light above. Moments of peace growing more difficult to come by as each day passes, Jack lets himself escape the world for the moment, retreating to a quiet place untouched by the earth’s worst.
Every breath that leaves his lungs somehow quieter than the last, Jack’s swaying ceases, his hands hanging freely by his sides as his hair gently takes with the direction of the wind. As his feet press into the worn out boots he’s laced tightly, Jack’s head tilts toward the heavens, allowing the breeze to run up the underside of his chin. The world remains blocked by his eyelids, their dark red glow more closely resembling anger than his true inner peace.
Before long, the red tint presented to shield his world of escape is dashed, replaced with the lonely, dark emptiness that only serves as his call to return home. His figure, along with the figures of those he stands beside, occupies the port just a few feet behind Rocky, their view of the deep, blue sky and remarkable sun now hidden behind Nova Scotia’s largest freighter, it’s starboard towering over Rockford’s leader, who symbolically stands ahead of his citizens- alone.
Chains shrieking loudly as the anchors descend from the ship, Rocky remains stood in his place, already having set too many things into motion to turn back. “Be ready for a gunfight” Nessie whispers, her hand resting on the firearm she’s kept on her side as she glances over her shoulder, hundreds of armed soldiers ready to defend Rocky’s settlement with fury, “we can’t know how well they’ll handle this- either of them.”
Keeping to himself, Jack watches a rope ladder descend from the ship’s bow, his face devoid of emotion, his mind refusing to be entangled in the impending discussion unless provoked. Within seconds, one man begins to climb over the ship’s ledge, his feet pressing into the unsteady rungs he prepares to descend. “We’re not the only ones that planned for this” Franklin murmurs, peering toward the boat’s gunwale, where hundreds of soldiers point barrels toward the ground.
Still kept to a hush, Jack joins Franklin in his view, recognising the threat that lingers without concerning himself over it. “He planned for that, didn’t he?” Clint replies, leaving Jack as the only survivor not to partake in the discussion. “Sure, but he’s got twenty snipers on the cranes at most” Nessie ripostes, her anxiety beginning to rise as the confrontation nears, “not much separates us from having to fire uphill.”
“We’re gonna be fine as long as Rocky doesn’t fuck this up” Franklin remarks, watching the climber make his final few steps toward the ground, “and if he does, we’ll step in.”
His hands wiped against his rubber overalls, the unassuming man from Nova Scotia approaches Rocky, a confused look on his face as his eyes pan across Rockford’s armed militia. “What’s the point in all of this, Rocky?” the man wonders aloud, his hand extended toward the gathered populous. “The port’s closed, Cody. Nova Scotia’s business will not be tolerated here” Rocky responds, a comment that prompts Cody to hang his head.
“No, I got that part. They let me know that before I set sail- I mean why?” Cody responds, the exhaustion he’s consumed by clear in his retort, “what is this supposed to change?”
“It’s gonna get us our split of the pie” Rocky replies, continuing in spite of Cody’s hanging head, “it’s getting us what’s fair. I’m not talking about Nova Scotia’s definition of fair, I’m talking about fair-fair.” With one hand on his hip, the other wiping the sweat from his brow, Cody looks up to the man, his head shaking in disapproval. “It’s not, Rocky” Cody ripostes, his chin jutting in the direction of the ship’s armed staff, “it’ll get you killed and replaced by whoever gives the order.”
“I’m dead either way, Cody- it doesn’t seem like Nova Scotia realises that yet” Rocky remarks, openly acknowledging the situation he’s tied to, “I don’t get a fair split, it won’t be long before these folks revolt. I don’t let you unload your shipments here, it won’t be long before Nova Scotia kills me. If I’m dead either way, I might as well take the option I’ve got the most to gain from.”
Holding his chin high, Cody’s disappointment doesn’t wane, the droplets of sweat that run down his face clear despite the shadow his own ship casts over his body. “Alright, what do you want me to do?” Cody responds, Rocky’s reasoning making it obvious that no amount of persuasion can be depended upon, “the guys on board have orders to kill if you’re gonna keep standing here. Either you’re gonna make way for them and maybe live another day, or you’re gonna become a pincushion.”
“I want a word with your superior” Rocky replies, a leather vest worn over a blue button-up, “kill me all you want, but I wish you luck in finding someone willing to oversee this camp.” With a sigh, Cody turns away from Rocky and returns to his vessel, though his path does not take him toward the rope ladder. “Rocky, you’re not going to get your way” Cody calls back, reaching the port’s edge before turning around, “this whole scene is pointless, and you’re using your life to let it play.”
Shifting his head to the left, Rocky shrugs his shoulders and turns away, preferring not to see the death that awaits him in the instance that it is to come. Bemused, Cody walks back to Rocky, remaining persistent in his efforts to change the man’s mind. “How many times do I have to tell you, Rocky!?” Cody shouts, both hands thrown out at his sides, “give it a rest! This protest- or whatever it is- isn’t worth spilling your blood over!”
Not only unphased, but slightly more vindicated than he was before, Rocky turns to look the man in his eyes, suspicious of Cody’s motivations. “We’re getting nowhere if you’re not going to answer me” Cody reiterates, watching Rocky’s face only continue to lighten, as if aware of something Cody has yet to become privy to. “We’re not going anywhere to begin with, Cody- this isn’t negotiable” Rocky ripostes, a smile beginning to spread across his face.
“You know what, I’m starting to think you already knew that” Rocky furthers, stepping away from his spot to creep closer to Cody, “and, much like short-changing us under the guise of poor production, I think these threats, and those soldiers on your boat, and all of this talk about tempting fate are all the same- just for show.”
His head pulling back, Cody stares into Rocky’s eyes, offence taken from the man’s declaration. “Rocky, this isn’t a joke” Cody remarks, continuing to stand firmly by his statement, “for fuck’s sake, I’m trying to keep you from getting yourself killed! Get your head out of your ass and smarten up damnit!”
Having made peace with whichever outcome prevails, Rocky folds his hands by his lap boldly, swaying his head from one side to another, the residents of his settlement forced only to watch. “Any of you ever play poker?” Franklin whispers, leaving the question to linger. “Every other Saturday at the warehouse” Jack responds, finally placing his hat in the metaphorical ring the conversation has opened, “are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
At the same time, the pair turn to look each other in the eyes, sharing the same thought as if their minds were interconnected. “He’s gonna call their bluff” Jack and Franklin reply, quickly taking their attention back to the scene unfolding before them. Stepping forward in effort to shorten the distance between them, Rocky’s hands remain folded by his lap, his voice dropping to the point where only Cody can hear him.
“Give them the signal” Rocky whispers, tipping his head as if it were his cap before retreating, stepping back into the guards’ line of fire with his arms out, daring them to initiate conflict. “Rocky-” Cody steps forward to say, the open hand Rocky presents to him cutting short the intended exchange. “I’ve made my peace, Cody. There’s no going back as far as I’m concerned” Rocky replies, waiting with a literal pair of open arms, “give them the signal or give Nova Scotia a ring.”
His lips pressed together, Cody stands in front of Rocky, looking him in the eyes without a response or retort. Stood above, the guards keep their aim upon not only Rocky, but any resident they can spot a weapon on, aware of the threat snipers pose to them. His decision made, Rocky remains affirmed, confident in the decision he’s made despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, his eyes holding steady upon his fate’s decider.
Following Nessie’s lead, Jack, Franklin and Clint hover their hands over the weapons they’ve hidden by their hips, the outcome that lies ahead having been planned for in full. With the wipe of his hand over his full head of hair, Cody continues staring, his expression showing the bluff he’s failed to hide. “She’s not going to take this lightly” Cody ripostes in defeat, turning away to return to the ship, his second attempt now directing him to the ladder he’d initially climbed down.
The threat alleviated for now, Rocky passes a look toward the group that stands behind him, able to find trust in their motives more than those of the citizens that back him. Slowly dropping his hand from the weapon on his hip, Jack sets the example for the rest of his group to follow, their worries quashed for the moment as further unpredictability awaits.
= Rise is created by Zachary Serra, all rights to the series belong to Zachary Serra and the entity of Pacer1 from the start of Season 3 onwards =
“You know we have a dishwasher, right?” Heather jokes, watching Jess handwash the ceramic plates that have gathered in the sink upon entering the kitchen. “You’re out of detergent” Jess remarks coldly, pressing her knuckles into the soft side of a scouring pad, “and I’m getting tired of looking at them.”
Put off by the tone in Jess’ voice, Heather lets the conversation end with Jess’ reply, her attention needed from a stack of envelopes on the kitchen table. Scrunching her face at the sound of the chair legs Heather drags across the kitchen’s tiled floor, Jess continues with her business, trying hard not to pay the woman any mind.
For a few minutes, Jess’ attempts work well, so focused on her duties to the sink that she begins to forget Heather is even present. “Amy wanted to know if you’d like to come out to dinner with us tonight. I told her I’d ask you just before she got on the bus” Heather remarks, her voice beginning to drag on Jess much like the chair had upon the floor.
“Thanks for letting me know” Jess responds, again lacking the empathy Heather holds, which does not go unnoticed. “So- is that a ‘yes’?” Heather soon replies, not deriving much clarity from the woman’s response, “it’s my treat.” Propping the last dish into the dishwasher’s rack to dry, Jess turns her attention upon the woman. “Why does it need to be ‘your treat’?” Jess inquires, taking the woman’s statement for more than it was.
“Because I came up with the idea” Heather ripostes, confused both by the attitude she’s been given and the reason behind Jess’ inquiry, “if I’m inviting you, it’s only reasonable that I pay the bill.” Nodding her head, Jess exits the room, still not offering Heather a direct answer. Not needing much to sense the hostility shown, Heather sets her mail down and follows after Jess, beginning to worry the tension between them has become a genuine issue not worth ignoring.
“Is something wrong?” Heather calls out, following Jess as she steps through the living room on her way to the second level. “Yeah, there is” Jess remarks, offering no further answer to Heather’s dismay. “Alright, care to tell me what it is?” Heather inquires, reaching the staircase before Jess turns to answer.
“You’re not Amy’s mother, and I think you should stop trying to be” Jess quickly remarks, leaning on the staircase’s bannister as she looks for the change in Heather’s expression. “W-?” Heather grumbles, hard for words at the accusation levied against her. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate you looking after her with what happened to John, and how we all got split up- all of it” Jess clarifies, her annoyance present despite her understanding, “but you’re not her mother- I am.”
“I never argued otherwise” Heather responds, a retort Jess refuses to deny as she resumes her climb. “You don’t need to, it’s not what you’re saying that says otherwise- it’s what you’re doing” Jess replies, aware that Heather is tailing her. “What is it that I’m doing?” Heather ripostes, unable to look past the flaws in the woman’s assertions, “I’m not doing anything now that I haven’t done since the New World Order.”
Stepping into her bedroom, Jess throws her damp, grey t-shirt into a bin near the corner of the room, continuing the conversation in a black bra as she retrieves a new shirt. “I don’t know what you’re referring to by that” Jess remarks, looking into a random drawer as Heather responds. “I’ve been looking after her ever since the New World Order!” Heather proclaims, “whenever you or John were busy, it was always either Cam and I or Emilio and Bill that looked after her. This is more of the same!”
“No, it’s not” Jess is quick to counter, throwing a loose purple shirt over her head as she steps past Heather, moving onto the next task, “things are different now.” Left with as much confusion as she had before, Heather follows Jess through the second-level hall. “You’re not making any sense! You’re saying these things and then giving no follow-up” Heather continues, the hall growing darker the further they walk as sunlight becomes more difficult to spot.
“Because I don’t know how else to say it!” Jess cuts back, stepping into the room at the end of the hall, its interior largely dimmed by the blackout curtains adorning the entrance to the patio. “You’re walking her to the bus for school, you’re teaching her how to make fires, and prune trees, and skin deer- or something like that” Jess vents, opening the doors to the outside platform as light engulfs the bedroom, “you’re doing everything I should be doing.”
Unravelling a hose from the twist ties that hold it to the patio’s bannister, Jess dips the nozzle into the can and presses her palm against the rear trigger. “You’re mad at me for teaching your daughter things because you didn’t?” Heather replies, somewhat taken aback by the less ambiguous reasoning, “in what world is that my fault?”
“In this world- the one where I’m Amy’s mother, and you’re not” Jess ripostes, unwavering in her need to clarify that point, much to Heather’s chagrin. Watching Jess prepare the watering can for the flowers, Heather lets the woman’s complaints simmer, the selfishness and lack of accountability resting poorly within the bounds of her conscience. Tensions already high, Heather matches the spite and contempt Jess holds for her, battling fire with flames of equal intensity.
“You know what, I don’t think I’m the person you should be blaming for that” Heather remarks, Jess’ attention pulled from the hanging basket of tulips momentarily, “after all, it wasn’t me that neglected Amy by wasting years of my life trying to tie down a man that was never meant for fatherhood in the first place.”
Her spite quickly turning into malevolence, Jess’ hand stops swaying from one end of the flower patch to the other, the water now trickling out upon one lone, sad flower farther away than the others. “Maybe you should spend less time blaming me for helping your kid learn how to make it in life, and start holding yourself accountable” Heather persists, watching Jess lower the watering can to the deck’s wooden platform, “you don’t get to blame me for your own oversight.”
Her aggravation having fully converted into anger, Jess closes in on Heather, her finger raised in the woman’s direction. “Don’t say another word” Jess responds, feeling her body tremble with an anger she’s unsure of her ability to control. “Why not? Is it because you want to avoid responsibility, or you don’t want to hear the truth?” Heather rebuttals, not taking Jess’ hints with their intended value, “if you feel left out, that’s your own way of admitting to yourself that you fucked up.”
“I mean it, Heather- not another word” Jess ripostes, her nose within inches of Heather’s face, the vigour she holds clearing her mind of any care for the consequences of what is to occur. Whilst not amused by the woman’s warning, Heather takes notice of her uninterest in what she has to say, present-minded enough to see that any further comment will only be in request of an altercation.
Following directions as asked, Heather shakes her head and retreats into the home, shrouded in the darkness as she re-enters the sunlight-deprived hall. Her heavy breathing beginning to settle, Jess slides her free hand from her left pocket, surrendering the switchblade she’d wrapped her fingers around moments prior. As her mind races, Jess reaches for the watering can and moves onto the next pot, her eyes rarely leaving the patio doors.
“It should be opening back up soon” Grace mutters, lifting a cappuccino to her lips as her statement is left unresponded to. “Lauren, did you hear me?” Grace queries, watching her friend salt a philly cheese steak intently. “No, I was listening to the salt shaker” Lauren replies, speaking through a humorous tone despite her answer being genuine.
“I said the incinerator should be opening back up soon” Grace responds, sliding a knife through the centre of a cooked sausage, “Jade told me they’d be finished reworking the grid by the end of next week.” Nodding, Lauren takes the first half of her sandwich to her lips, letting Grace continue to speak as she indulges in her meal. “I know it’s not great work, but personally- I’m glad we’re going back to it” Grace admits, “I think being together this long has been hard for Donnie and I.”
Her eyebrows narrowing, Lauren chews her sandwich to completion before opening her mouth to respond, her hand held over her lips as she does. “What makes you say that?” Lauren remarks, reaching for the cup of black coffee beside her. “I just feel like the two of us have grown distant” Grace ripostes, sinking her teeth into a chunk of waffle at the end of her fork, “maybe not being around each other all day will be good for us.”
With a sigh, Lauren sets her sandwich down, another swig from her coffee helping her put away the bite of her meal quicker. “You think that’s why the two of you have been distant?” Lauren replies, hiding the pessimistic expression she frequently lets slip. “I mean, why not?” Grace responds, her hand guided toward a nearby bottle of maple syrup, “the distance started when I stopped working. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t want to be around myself all day either.”
Letting the woman form her own beliefs, Lauren places her focus back on the meal that awaits her, hoping to avoid the topic for as long as it takes her to finish. “Why?” Grace follows, effortlessly crushing Lauren’s loudest hope. “I was just asking” Lauren remarks, trying to correct the course toward something else. “I know, but you asked it in a weird way” Grace responds, too familiar with Lauren to not notice the woman’s pessimistic mannerisms, “and you’re you, so there’s that.”
Rolling her eyes, Lauren puts the sandwich down and begins wiping her hands. “I just don’t think it’s usually as simple as you’d like it to be with Donnie” Lauren ripostes, already spotting the dislike Grace begins showing toward her view, “nothing about him really screams ‘I’m the long-term, committed relationship’ type.”
“Well, maybe that’s not the way he seems to you- but I’d like to think I know him better than that” Grace returns, the scrunched face Lauren reacts with suggesting the pessimistic expression has won. “You’d like to think that, but I think the more you know someone, the more invested you are in maintaining whatever view you’ve got of them- no matter how much they’ve changed since” Lauren divulges, “Donnie’s always just struck me as a guy that plays fast and loose.”
Her head shaking, Grace disregards the opinion, diving back into her meal whilst reluctant to let the dialogue continue. “Let’s just eat our food” Grace grumbles, slicing another chunk of waffle onto her fork, “forget I asked.”
Touching back upon ground, Cody’s eyes take to Rocky, who remains at the forefront of his militia, ready to welcome whatever fate chooses to come upon him. Letting out a sigh, Cody marches back to the same confrontation he’d begun the day with, hoping for its conclusion now that the midday sun has turned into the evening-onsetting sunset.
“Humour me, if you will. Was there actually a signal to open fire, or was that for show, too?” Rocky taunts, watching the amused grin stretch across Cody’s face. “The signal wasn’t for you, it was for whoever stood with you” Cody replies, lifting his shirt to reveal a handgun on his waist, “in interest of not getting too vulgar, I’ll just say that you were the signal- if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know if there’s a way for you to make it any clearer” Rocky jokes, his hands finding comfort crossed against his chest, “so, what’s the ruling?” The time for jokes having passed, Cody’s amused expression turns stoic, a weird look worn on his face from his inability to hide the apologetic eyes he still holds. “You know they’re too stubborn to give into any demands that aren’t given out by them” Cody responds, his head shaking as he concludes, “you’re out.”
His eyes beginning to squint, Rocky latches onto the man’s response, confused by the simplicity it was offered with. “We’re out?” Rocky remarks, hoping for elaboration, “what do you mean by that?” Allowing the question to be asked, Cody begins to suck on his bottom lip, displeased with having to reply. “You’re no longer of use to Nova Scotia” Cody soberly ripostes, removing the firearm from his side and taking aim between Rocky’s eyes, “you’re out.”
The turn catching him by surprise, Rocky is left standing at gunpoint, his eyes closing at the sound of gunfire, though none of it is the cause of the weapon in his face. “Take cover!” a guard exclaims, offering Rocky only enough time to watch Cody collapse, the small bullet hole beneath his twitching eye offering enough information to make a thorough assumption.
“Get to the trucks!” Jack exclaims, pushing Nessie, who’s gun smokes from Cody’s fatal gunshot, toward Franklin and Clint. “Where are you going!?” Nessie shouts back, feeling Jack’s departure as his hands leave her shoulders. “To save our fucking deal!” Jack growls, bracing for the bullets that fire from above in an effort to reach Rocky, who remains a sitting duck without his attention.
Rockford’s plan working perfectly, the gunmen hiding in their container cranes fire rockets at Nova Scotia’s fleet, engulfing those aboard the vessel in horrifying flames. “Stop standing around, motherfucker! We’ve gotta get out of here!” Jack exclaims, pulling Rocky away from the murder scene by the neck, their destination already determined.
“Jack!” Franklin shouts, peering through the dirt clouds from the passenger seat of an eighteen wheeler, barely able to make the man’s outline. “Are Clint and Nessie with you!?” Jack shouts through the dust, pushing Rocky forward as the man breaks through the haze. “They’re in the carrier!” Franklin exclaims, moving aside to let Jack into the vehicle’s cabin as Rocky pulls himself into the driver’s seat.
“Are you good to drive?” Jack shouts in a frenzy, satisfied with the nod that Rocky musters enough will to give, “then we’re set- let’s go!”
Throwing the trailer into drive, Rocky presses his foot upon the gas and leads the convoy, his big-rig the first in a line of twenty, various other trucks and vans following the lead of their larger counterparts.
“Alright, what’s our fucking plan now!?” Jack shouts, sharing a look at Rocky as they await an answer, the ‘Welcome to Rockford’ sign passing in their rear-view mirror as they depart. “We go to the next settlement over, that’s the new plan” Rocky replies, his answer still leaving much to be desired.
“Alright, we get to the next settlement over and then what?” Franklin ripostes, his metal cap pressed against the dashboard for support his seatbelt fails to offer. “I’m not sure yet, but we’ve got plenty of time to figure that out” Rocky replies, pulling a dart from the pack in his vest pocket and striking it alight with the truck’s own lighter.
Left with no better option, Jack and Franklin sink into their seats, readying themselves for the most uncertain drive they’ve ever been left to take part in.
== Rise ==