“So- here’s what I know about you” Jade remarks, taking the notebook held out from her brother’s hand, “your name is Emilio, you’re hispanic, you were a politician before the world ended, and you’re the group’s leader.”
“No” Emilio quickly replies, his calm voice flustered by the bitter chill of the air, allowing his responses to come off with a slight growl. “No what?” Jade queries, her lips parting slightly to present the man her pearly whites. “I’m not the group’s leader” Emilio replies, watching the woman proceed with a bemused reaction. ‘You- you’re not-?” Jade stammers, eventually turning back toward the rest of the group, inspecting her prisoners, “who’s in charge here?”
“There is no leader” Emilio replies, his intense stare giving Jade a unique impression. “That’s- odd” Jade replies, folding her arms over her lap as she looks back toward the pile, still unable to discern one strong-appearing figure from the rest. Allowing herself to truly get a look at those off to her side, Jade’s eyes finally lock onto a woman near the group’s front.
“That’s fine, we’ll call an audible” Jade replies, pointing her finger toward Alicia, “let’s save Emilio for last, and start with the brunette.” Staring into Isaac’s eyes as the man approaches him with a roll of duct tape and some rope, Emilio complies with Jade’s orders in hopes of establishing good faith. As his wrists are bound and his mouth is covered, Emilio watches Jade gently remove the strip of duct tape over Alicia’s mouth and lead her toward the newly-vacated seat.
“If you wanted to sit us down for interviews, you could have done so with fewer guns” Alicia remarks, watching Jade’s eyes light up at the suggestion. “We’re severely outnumbered and know nothing about you” Jade replies, crossing one leg over the other as she settles back into her seat, “you could have cooperated as easily as you could have slaughtered us.”
The air growing calm, Jade and Alicia sit in utter silence, the latter-woman’s group serving as a captive audience. “That said, the past is in the past. The only objective from here is to find out if we can co-exist” Jade explains, pressing her thumb upon a blue pen’s nose cone in preparation to take notes, “and that’s exactly what I’m here to do. So, start with your name, your age, and the job you had prior to the apocalypse, please.”
= 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 =
/ Alicia /
“Alicia Haven, 30, and I was studying for my master’s degree” the woman replies, immediately sparking interest from the woman before her. “Did you have a job on the side?” Jade inquires, scrawling upon the paper in her lap. “I was a judo instructor for a few months. I worked on weekdays” Alicia replies, her hands folded in her lap, her back pressing against the chair.
“Does your judo bring anything of value- perhaps in combat?” Jade proceeds to wonder aloud, watching Alicia’s face light up like Christmas decor. “Is that you volunteering to find out?” Alicia replies, a question that Jade answers with raised hands. “Not in a million years- I’ll take your word for it” the still-unfamiliar woman replies, settling back into the web of questions she seeks to spin.
“Since the zombies came around, have you done anything purposefully bad?” Jade questions, her head slightly tilting to the side, “something you knew was wrong before you did it, but did anyway?” Her lips pressed together, Alicia begins to stare off at the distant corners of the room, her head gradually beginning to shake in refusal. “No, not that I-” Alicia begins to reply, suddenly stopping herself before she can have the chance to finish, “I- no, not really.”
Her pen’s cone rising up to her bottom lip, Jade cracks another smile, this one more contained than the last. “Not really is- ironically enough- not really a good enough answer to that question.” Struggling to find a response, Alicia’s eyes trail across the room, bouncing from one side to the other before falling to her lap, the knuckles of her thumb arched toward her face.
“Whatever it is, you’re better off telling me than not” Jade explains, swiping loose hairs away from her eyes, “it’s a simple question. If you have a hard time answering it, I’ll make my own assumptions. That wouldn’t be fair to you, and that’s not what I want to do.” Her knuckles tapping together as her leg begins to anxiously bounce, Alicia’s eyes begin to wander back to the mass huddle to her left, Franklin’s confident nod giving her the comfort to set her reluctance aside.
“We’ll move on” Jade begins to speak, running her pinky finger down the pages of her notes, “what were the initial-?”
“I sided with a bad person to spite my friends” Alicia interjects, answering the prior question to her boyfriend’s delight, “I knew it was the wrong move, but I made it.” Intrigued, Jade closes her once-parted lips, her hand waving forward to offer Alicia the space to continue. “Salem, Franklin and I were on the road a lot during the first few weeks of the outbreak” Alicia recalls, repeatedly glancing in her friend’s general vicinity, “we decided to settle down at a place in Concord.”
“That sounds peaceful” Jade replies, her voice dropping a few tones as she mingles with common ground. “It was. It was a quiet little town for the most part. But, when you’re around new people, sometimes you forget about the old ones” Alicia remarks, the look on her face speaking to her disappointment, “I was the odd one out.”
With a nod, Jade remains silent, sitting back in her chair whilst Alicia’s head tilts toward the ground. “It took so much to get us on the same page, and- in such a short amount of time, we were on totally different books” the woman continues, beginning to feel a lump grow in her throat. “I felt like they forgot I existed, and just kept it that way” Alicia speaks with distressed breath.
“And did they?” Jade proceeds, watching Alicia look up to her, sharing eye contact without the reluctance she’d recently held in abundance. “Yeah” Alicia replies in almost a whisper, no tears to spare, though holding the look of a withered soul, “and I couldn’t- I- I didn’t know how to be alone at the time.”
“So you looked for comfort from someone else” Jade replies, filling in the hole she knows required maintenance. “I did” Alicia responds, keeping the disappointed look as she nods her head, “and I knew, somewhere deep down, that the man was- that he was not as what he wanted people to believe he was. I didn’t let myself see it, and it could have ended- everything.”
/ Franklin /
“The initial days of the outbreak- what were they like?” Jade inquires, rolling her eyes over the much larger man across from her, especially fixated on the metal covering over his shortened arm. “I’m not really sure anymore. It wasn’t long after I lost my arm that we were on the road” Franklin replies, visibly starved for clarity, “I just remember a lot of pain, and a lot of driving.”
“Just tell me what you remember” Jade replies, her voice becoming more soothing as the day passes by, plenty of sunlight left to burn beneath the veil of curiosity, “I’ll take whatever you can offer.” His lips pressing together, Franklin begins to bow his head, letting out a few deep breaths as fights for memories. “I remember getting bit by John’s neighbour, and I remember Salem chopping my arm off” Franklin replies, drawing Jade’s pupils to the corner of her eye, where the larger group sits.
“I remember a bunch of cars rolling up to the house, and I remember there being a panic” Franklin continues, again beginning to struggle. “I remember the dead showed up, I remember a helicopter going down, and I remember running through the forest” Franklin concludes, finally pulling his eyes up at Jade. “That’s all I remember” Franklin assures, letting his metal-covered nub fall to his side, draping off his thigh.
Her eyes kept on the large man, Jade’s expression starts to twist from understanding to distrustful, the grin she hides beneath her purple-coloured lips beginning to show itself. “Why’d you look away from me?” Jade suddenly inquires, having noticed his eyes wander to the obscure corners of the room. “You looked away from me when you said ‘that’s all I remember’” Jade repeats, trying to hide the grin she’d allowed her face to wear, “almost as if you weren’t being honest with me.”
His mouth open without the words to speak, Franklin shakes his head, uncharacteristically struggling to reply. “I can’t trust you if you won’t be honest with me, Franklin” Jade advises, folding her arms above the notebook as if the need to take notes were no longer necessary, “that kind of defeats the whole point of trust.”
With no expression, Franklin stares forward for another few seconds, maintaining his confident posture before surrendering to reason. His chin lowering, Franklin’s eyes take to the back of his hand, its palm resting on his kneecap. “I do remember a few other things” Franklin replies, an obvious look of disenchantment worn. Without another word, Franklin’s eyes trail back to the group, his focus finding its way to Salem, who nods to him, as if she were offering her blessing.
/ Salem /
“I know I’ve got a checklist of questions to answer, but I feel the need to go off course with you” Jade proclaims, closing her notebook and laying it aside as she looks into Salem’s eyes. “I must be fascinating” Salem responds with almost no emotion, anger or happiness replaced with absolute nothingness, something that Jade takes humour from. “If I’m being honest, you are” the raven-haired woman replies, “you strike me as both a genius and a maniac. I love it.”
Leaning back in her seat, unphased, Salem crosses her arms, waiting for Jade to push the conversation along. “From what I’ve heard, you were the person that decided to remove Franklin’s arm” Jade remarks, pressing her chest forward as she leans on her lap, an eager look in her eyes, “what convinced you to do that?”
“I did what felt right in the moment” Salem replies, her arms remaining crossed, guard remaining intact, and statements consisting of a persistent lack of empathy. “Why did it feel right?” Jade replies, aware of the distrust Salem has for her, and attempting to work around it. “It just did” Salem responds, sucking on her teeth for a moment, “that’s just how it works, isn’t it? We’re all humans. We do what’s in our best interest to survive.”
Again enthused to the point of cracking a smile, Jade lets the pen roll from her finger, joining her notebook on the ground. “How about threatening to put down Franklin in the woods?” Jade follows, balling her hand beneath her chin for support, “what convinced you to do that?”
“I did what felt right in the moment” Salem replies, her arms still crossed, guard no less raised than before, and perpetually void of emotion. “Why did it feel right in the moment?” Jade questions, continuing the repetitive cycle with glee, simply enamoured by the great amount of distance the woman’s established despite being mere feet away. “He was slow, the dead were at our heels, and I couldn’t guarantee he’d live” Salem replies, stone-faced and unremorseful, “it just felt right.”
“So you were willing to save a man’s life because you could, and you were willing to take that same man’s life because you needed to” Jade replies, shaking her head with a smile. Silently staring, Jade’s eyes aim intensely into Salem’s face, waiting for the faint, almost impossible to spot, spurt of emotion that simply never arrives. “Would you do it again?” Jade finally asks, making up for the lack of depth in Salem’s answers by digging into their foundation herself.
“Yes, I’d save his life again” Salem replies, immediately earning Jade’s ardent opposition. “No, no-” Jade remarks, waving her hands at the woman in an effort to correct herself, “would you put that rifle to his head again?” Her face unchanged, Salem remains silent for a few seconds, saying a lot within the momentary pause. “I value the friendship we have now” Salem replies, her response earning laughter from Jade the moment it’s spoken.
“For a start, that’s not a yes or a no” Jade explains, silencing the laughter she’s flooded the room with, “if faced with the same situation, and you didn’t have that bond, would you, barring interference, kill him?” Straight-laced, Salem takes no time in responding. “Yes” Salem replies, surprising those she shares the room with, both in Jade’s group and her own, “if we didn’t have that friendship, I would choose what felt right. If it felt right then, it would feel right now.”
Covering the smile on her face with her hands, Jade muffles a giggle as she leans back, returning to the chair’s frigid embrace. “That is cold-fucking-blooded” Jade remarks, shaking her head with a worrying delight.
/ Jessica /
Slouched in her chair, each hand draped over one leg respectively and her head hung to the floor, Jess waits for her turn to be over. “Do you remember what you were doing during the initial days of the outbreak?” Jade inquires, sitting with one leg draped over the other, the notebook and pen ready to be put into use. “No comment” Jess replies, never once raising her eyes in Jade’s direction.
“Did you ever knowingly do something bad?” Jade follows, puckering her lips as she searches for clarification, “maybe around the start of things, maybe recently?” Opening her mouth to suck in a deep breath, Jess answers mid-exhale. “No comment” the woman replies, the once-blonde hair that falls over the side of her head beginning to naturally darken. “Alright” Jade mutters beneath her breath, taking another glance at her notebook while she plans her next move.
“Do you understand that none of these answers are helping you?” Jade qualms, uncertain to the reason behind Jess’ demeanour. Her head turned to the side, Jess lets out another sigh as the expression on her face turns sickly, as if she were ill. “No comment” Jess replies again, finally beginning to irritate the pale-skinned woman on the other side of the room.
“Without going too much into detail, I’m giving you a chance. I’m giving you a really good chance” Jade explains, her declaration offered with passion, “for your own sake, it’d be smart to make the most of it.” Her groggy posture slowly readjusting, Jess pulls her head up and stares into Jade’s eyes, the rest of her body remaining positioned as is. Her lips parting, Jess presses her back into the chair and responds.
/ Katie /
“We heard about a compound in New York, and set sail for Long Island when we reached the shore” Katie recalls, everything that came after colliding with already-spoken history. “And what toll did your brother’s death take on you?” Jade pursues, the mood beginning to die down. Previously content with answering the prior-asked questions, Katie becomes weary, overtaken by a sombre sensation.
“I- I was angry” Katie replies, breaking the eye contact she’d sustained with Jade, “I wanted the people responsible to pay, and was hell-bent on making that happen.” Preparing another question, Jade hears her brother’s voice emerge from the far-off end of the room. “Did they pay?” Archie wonders, sitting on a dusty office chair with his shotgun held toward Katie’s group.
Taking a moment to think, Katie’s head lowers, never having considered the question before. “Not as much as I wanted them to, no” Katie replies, her eyes filling with sadness as Jade attempts to speak again. “Has losing your brother ever actually dawned on you?” Jade digs, noticing a confusion in the woman’s face. “I get that you know he’s dead, and you don’t argue otherwise-” Jade clarifies, trying to phrase her question carefully, “-but has it ever settled in?”
Glancing down, Katie’s face begins to sour, her lips parting a few inches as she sits in silence. “Not until now” Katie replies, this time avoiding eye contact with anything other than the floor, her heart falling in what feels like real time.
/ Angela /
“By the sound of it, you seem to be an extra piece to the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit” Jade comments, earning a laugh from her guest. “Most of the group was together by the time I showed up” Angela replies, unbothered by Jade’s assumption, “Clint and Nessie are siblings, so being the odd-one out seems fitting.”
“Do you feel like the odd-one out?” Jade cuts in to ask, both feet now placed firmly on the ground, her body leaning against the right side of her chair. “I don’t think about it enough for it to matter” Angela replies, “I’m still alive and there are plenty who aren’t. That’s what matters.” Her hand now covering her chin, Jade lets the notebook in her lap slide off her thigh, coming to a rest at her hip.
“Is that all that matters? Just being alive?” Jade challenges, unable to keep from squinting at the woman. “It’s not the only thing that matters, but I’d argue it’s the most important” Angela replies, drawing Jade closer toward a debate. “Is it more important than love?” Jade questions, watching Angela’s head nod. “It is more important than love” the younger woman responds, wasting little time to double down on her belief.
“What about comfort, or friends, or a home? Or what about decency, or care, or compassion?” Jade disputes, not needing to wait long for her answer. “It’s more important than all of those” Angela replies, watching Jade process the response before feeling the need to explain herself. “I’m not saying any of those are unimportant, but I am saying they’re of lesser importance” Angela continues, coupling her hands together, “without being alive, you don’t have any of that anyway.”
Not shy to defend her own stance, Jade offers her rebuttal. “If you didn’t have any of the rest, would being alive even be worth it?” the woman questions, savouring the conversation enough to lick her lips, “you certainly can’t have one without the other, but that can apply to both sides. So, in reality, can either truly exist without the other?”
Holding onto her laughter, Angela tilts her head to the side, grazing her teeth with the tip of her tongue. “Are you implying we both win this round?” Angela inquires, watching the light reflect off Jade’s eyes as the tip of the woman’s pen is lifted to her bottom lip. “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it” Jade remarks, pressing her teeth upon the pencap’s hardened, plastic shell, “but who’s keeping score?”
/ Clint /
“So, your quirk is that you don’t kill?” Jade continues, immediately hesitant to believe the well-mannered man sat in front of her. “I doubt I’ll ever know, however long after someone comes back as one of the dead, whether or not there’s still a piece of them trapped in there” Clint replies, proudly wearing the Christian cross on his chest, “it would be against my religion to do otherwise.”
“And your sister over there doesn’t share your religious views?” Jade counters, pointing her finger at the mouth-taped, rope-bound woman. “No” Clint replies, seated as if told to sit properly at gunpoint, “she thinks it’s silly.”
“She’s not wrong” Jade mumbles, lowering her eyes to the notepad until her posture changes, a sudden realisation having dawned upon her. “Do we still have some shitheads chained up?” Jade turns to ask her brother, his silent retreat from the room giving the woman her answer. “You have other people here?” Clint worriedly voices, watching the woman look back to him with a grin.
“Since you consider the zombies ‘people’, yes we do” Jade replies, allowing a silence to permeate throughout the room, the distant sound of chains unravelling providing music to her ears. “You-” Clint murmurs, stalling himself as snarls take over where the silence left off, growing closer the more Jade’s brother approaches. Groaning beneath her duct tape gag, Nessie struggles to free herself of the restraints on her hands, fighting for release as Isaac returns with a guest.
“Aarrgghh!” the heavily-decayed corpse shrieks, immediately taking interest in the religious man across the room. “Good luck” Jade whispers, leaving her seat in favour of a distant corner, leaving Clint to prove his pacifistic claims. Releasing the corpse from his padded hand, Isaac watches Clint pull away from his seat, trying to maintain the distance established.
Continuing to struggle, Nessie fails in her attempts at freedom, watching the corpse gain ground on her brother. Pushing his hands out at the rotten ghoul, Clint pushes the zombie to the ground and backs away, maintaining his distance in spite of the corpse. “This isn’t going to end until you kill it” Jade remarks, keeping tucked away as the corpse prepares for another go.
Biding his time, Clint throws the bag of bones to the ground once more, regaining his distance as the undead body prepares for more.
Handicapped, Nessie works with the restrictions she’s been given. Leaving her spot on the ground, the woman leaps over her peers and charges the impromptu battlefield, paying little mind to the armed enforcement holding their weapons toward her. Her timing perfect, Nessie rushes past her brother and stares down the sack of flesh, mouth still gagged and hands still tied at her lap.
Throwing her shoulder forward, Nessie shoves the undead threat with enough force to send its skinny, deteriorating body through the nearest window and to the overgrowth-covered ground below. Fortunate enough to slam into a concrete wall, Nessie tumbles to the floor, spared from the same fate as the corpse she’d just sent dozens of floors below to the next life.
Keeping Clint at bay with his shotgun, Isaac approaches Nessie, who pushes herself into a seat on the ground. “I think I’ve seen all I need to out of her” Jade exclaims, pleased with the display she’s been presented with. “As a matter of fact, I think I’ve seen all I need to out of both of them.”
/ Jack /
“I don’t like how vague you are” Jack expresses, watching the surprise roll upon Jade’s face. “Do you think I’d just be asking you questions for no reason?” Jade replies, no less surprised from the diversity that is her reception. “It doesn’t matter what the reason is. Big or small- it doesn’t matter” Jack replies, opting to lean forward in his seat, not shying away from confrontation, “if you want to trust us, we need to trust you. So far, you’ve done nothing to prove that last part.”
Guiding her hand toward her armed brothers, Jade begs to differ. “I told you everyone would be unharmed if you cooperated” Jade replies, yet to conclude her argument, “told you I knew Courtney, I’ve given you a fair chance, what more-?”
“A fair chance at what?” Jack replies, his head subtly bobbing, “you’re asking us questions, you’re digging into our lives and what we’ve been through. What is it all for? What chance are you giving us?”
“Don’t you think that, if telling you what I was vetting you for wasn’t unimportant, I wouldn’t keep you all in suspense?” Jade retorts, letting out a brief chuckle, “this is supposed to be fair. If I made assumptions about your group, it wouldn’t be fair to you. If I gave you the reason behind these questions, it wouldn’t be fair to me. Is that clear enough for you?”
“Clear and understandable are two completely different things” Jack replies, continuing to instigate the woman. “I guess you’ll have to figure out how to differentiate between the two then” Jade replies, hunching over to match the lean Jack presents. Their eyes level, Jade sets her notebook on the floor, taking the conversation from there. “Let’s move onto the next question” Jade suggests, reciting the query from memory.
/ Lauren /
“Would you be strong enough to kill a friend?” Jade wonders, now sat with the back of the chair pressing against her chest. “It would depend on the situation” Lauren replies, the answer coming off partially robotic, a result that compels the notebook-wielding lady. “Have you killed a friend before?” Jade re-questions, the answer she expects now drastically altered.
“I killed my girlfriend a few years ago at this point, yeah” Lauren replies, hands tucked into her pockets. “Why did you do that?” Jade asks, her arms folded atop the chair’s back. “She knelt over me with a knife while I was asleep, so I shot her” Lauren answers, unafraid to share the truth, “I knew what she was planning, so I can’t plead self-defence. But yes, I have killed a friend.”
“Why did she try to kill you?” Jade follows up, her curiosity spun the moment this revelation left Lauren’s lips. “I no longer believed in taking over a compound out of self-destructive anger” Lauren replies, unapologetic for any of it, “we had different outlooks on the future, and mine won.”
Biting into her bottom lip, Jade ponders the potential for her next question before settling on something familiar. “Would you say you chose to kill her?” Jade inquires, watching Lauren think her choices over before getting comfortable with the answer. “I could have confronted her, and my hand could have been forced in a way where I could say ‘no’. At least, I assume that” Lauren replies, her head beginning to nod, “so yes, I chose to kill her.”
/ Emilio /
“You seem to be struggling to accept your power within this group” Jade examines, watching Emilio’s eyes roll as her overconfident tone bites at his ear. “Even if you don’t want to be seen as the leader, you need to recognize the sway you have here. You’d be foolish not to” Jade remarks, watching the man’s eyes subtly begin to take to her, somewhat invested in hearing what she has to say.
“Your group will view you as their leader if they want to. They don’t need your approval to do that” Jade explains, setting her notebook aside, falling in favour of establishing a connection. “If you view something as fragile, they’ll walk carefully around whatever that ‘something’ is. If you say ‘jump’, you’ve got plenty of feet in the air. Say ‘duck’, and heads will lower” the woman continues, delivering her claim with an intoxicating assurance, “that power makes a difference.”
“It’s power that isn’t mine to have” Emilio replies, instantly finding his argument to fall upon disagreeing ears. “It doesn’t matter if it’s yours to have- you have it regardless” Jade retorts, watching Emilio’s eyes roll away, reluctant to accept her findings. “People were made to follow, and few people were made to lead-” Jade explains, her voice lowering to a comforting, almost personal tone, “-but even fewer people were made to lead well.”
Re-earning his eyesight, Jade lets a genuine smile peek out from behind her lips. “Hell, if it makes you feel better- put it to a vote” Jade suggests, leaning back into her seat whilst delighted at the result of the conversation. Concealing his sigh, Emilio rests against his chair in much the same way as Jade, giving the woman a gentle nod. “Are we done yet?” Emilio inquires, watching as the rest of Jade’s smile emerges from behind her lips.
“Are you going to tell us why you asked those questions now?” Jack calls out, following the woman and her brothers through the abandoned lobby. “I was deciding on who I was going to take back to our camp” Jade replies, climbing into the bed of a truck as Archie occupies the driver’s seat. “Hold on, we weren’t looking to get into another community!” Emilio eagerly remarks, “we just-”
“You just wanted to follow Courtney to Nova Scotia, or do whatever with her for whatever reason. I’ve heard it before” Jade replies, taking a seat upon the truck’s cabin.
“Listen, this has nothing to do with her, or the people in Nova Scotia, not wanting you there- there’s just no room up North” Jade warns, watching the disheartened eyes she’s grown to know slightly more than most, “they’ve limited capacity to ten thousand residents. Until people start dying, it’ll be a while before you don’t get turned away at the gates.”
“Then why would Courtney tell us to-?” Franklin proceeds to inquire, interrupted with his answer, unable to finish the question Jade has heard plenty of by now. “Courtney keeps a close eye on what’s going on down below” Jade replies, listening to the truck’s engine roar as Archie turns the key in its ignition, “you’re not the first group she’s tried to save from bad company, and I doubt you’ll be the last.”
Again left without words, the group stare at the woman, watching her brothers load into the vehicle after returning her notebook.. “What was the point of the questions?” Jack finally wonders aloud, capturing Jade’s attention, “you said you were giving us a fair chance. What fair chance were you referring to?”
Putting on a straight face, Jade lets her notebook sit atop her lap, offering the group a sympathetic look. “After the compound in New York fell, the leadership of the New World Order decided to reimagine their strategy for societal reform” Jade explains, leaning forward to speak to the crowd gathered at her truck, “they propped up settlements all over the northeast, had them take on small populations, and in return for free trade with other settlements, perfect a craft they could exploit.”
Silent, the group remains captivated, hanging on to Jade’s every word. “In my settlement, we specialise in medicinal goods. Bandages, rubbing alcohol, medications, marijuana. The list goes on” the woman explains, reclaiming her grasp on the notebook, “Courtney is their version of a telephone. Not every settlement has power, so she parlays messages throughout the coast. Our goods are dispersed amongst every other settlement, and every other settlement’s goods are dispersed to each other.”
“What happened to the other compounds?” Emilio replies, too many loose screws in the woman’s recollection left unfettered. “Concord fell before New York, but the ‘Big Apple’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back” Jade replies, her shoulders shrugging, “Nova Scotia severed ties with Delaware and the unfinished compound in Toronto and focused on staying coastal.”
“You still haven’t answered my question” Jack remarks, again speaking out from within the crowd, “you claimed to be giving us a fair chance. What was that fair chance?” The loose hairs in her face blown from her eyes with a huff of breath, Jade returns her sights to the notebook. “When space opens up in Nova Scotia, the camp takes in a few dozen residents from every compound” Jade replies, giving a frown to the page she stares at, “the only way to Nova Scotia is through me.”
As the rest of his group struggles to put the pieces together, Emilio comes to his own conclusion. “So, if we joined you, and you selected us to move up to Nova Scotia, that’d be our ticket in?” Emilio questions, the nod of Jade’s head giving him an answer. “Think of every settlement like small cities” Jade implores, “a quiet little city here, and a quiet little there. If you get called up to Nova Scotia- you go from living in Sioux Falls to living in Los Angeles.”
Sharing uncertain looks, the group’s shared pessimism assumes control of the narrative. “If everything were as wonderful as you’re making it out to be, we’d be talking about it over a drive through the city” Alicia replies, quick to find the flaw in the woman’s delivery, “what’s the catch?”
Still staring into the page her notebook had opened to, Jade’s spirits begin to lower, her conscience hating this part of the vetting process more with each occurrence. “Emilio Vasquez, Alicia Haven, Salem Ailwood, Lauren Salcedo, Angela Hargraves, Vanessa Mintz” Jade exclaims, calling the most skilled the group has to offer, “you’ve each shown qualities ruled valuable to our community, and are extended an invitation to return with us.”
Sharing in groans and concerned grovelling, the group awaits the second shoe to drop, bringing an answer they’ve each come to expect. “Jessica Callis, Franklin Carter, Jack O’Rourke, Katie Dawson, and Clint Mintz” Jade calls aloud, “you have not displayed values our community can find as valuable to our collective future, and will not be offered an invitation to return with us.”
“This is bullshit” Lauren murmurs beneath her breath, her head hung as she turns her back to the truck-occupying woman, seeking refuge in Jack’s arms. “You’re not the first group I’ve had to give this news, so I’m aware that this is a difficult decision for you” Jade explains, herself now cut off by the group's de facto leader. “There isn’t a decision to make- we’re not splitting up” Emilio replies, earning Jade’s ire.
“I thought you weren’t the one in charge here?” Jade snarkishly remarks, soon finding the sentiment shared amongst the undivided group. “I’m not saying this should be an easy choice, but there is a reason you were following Courtney’s trail. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, you want to get to Nova Scotia” Jade explains, the group she speaks toward reasonable enough to hear her out, “this is the only opportunity you’re going to get- I’m begging you to at least consider it.”
“It’s not worth it if half of us are left out here to die” Angela replies, standing by her group’s unanimous disinterest in the offer. Her head hung, Jade lets her breaths steady, the hairs in front of her face beginning to sway with her breath. “We don’t live in fear of other people. We don’t fear having to fend off hordes of the dead. We just live” Jade counsels, “as far as I know, there’s no other society set up to co-exist with this virus, and live in relative normality, outside of ours.”
“It’s not relative normal if we’re not all there to see it” Jack argues again, refusing to give the woman any room for reason, “no speech, or promises, or whatever you could make will change our minds.”
“I know. And I’m not going to try” Jade replies, cutting the final syllables of the man’s declaration short. “I’m not going to ask you to make this call tonight, I’m just asking that you think it through over the next twenty-four hours” Jade clarifies, her breath fogging the air just below her chin, “we’re coming back tomorrow night. We’ll be right here waiting for any of the invitees that changed their mind until sundown. If you don’t show up, that’s fine. If you do show up, that’s also fine.”
The storm having calmed, the group becomes quiet, sharing a few looks at each other as Jade lowers herself into the truck bed. “I’m not going to try to rip you away from each other” Jade promises, tapping her hand against the truck’s cabin roof, concluding her vow as the vehicle begins to drive off, “I’m just trying to give you a chance at a life worth living.”
Crushing the plant life sprouting through cracks and grooves in the asphalt, Jade’s truck disappears into the diminishing daylight. Left stood in the middle of the one-street, Emilio and his group watch on, following the flashing red tail lights as they vanish around a corner. “Can you fucking believe that shit!?” Jack exclaims, shaking his head as he turns to walk away, the first to leave the conflict behind.
As his body turns away from his peers, Jack’s face turns into a sudden sadness from anger, the conflict of the offer left behind, instead replaced with a moral-bound, deeper conflict internally. “We’re not gonna take the offer, right?” Alicia whispers aloud, looking to anyone she shares the street with, before her eyes ultimately fall upon Emilio. “No” Emilio mutters, the certainty behind his statement rivalled by the uncertainty in his eyes, as if not confident in his reply, “definitely not.”
== Rise ==