“Why do you call it ‘Cumberland’?” Angela inquires, leaving the question at Jade’s feet as the sky darkens, turning to night. “Because it’s in a town called Cumberland” Jade replies, quickly appearing to rescind her statement, “we didn’t see a point in getting fancy, so we just kept the name on all the signs. Honestly, it was much more cost-efficient.”
“You took over the whole town?” Emilio questions curiously, his eyes pressing closer together as he turns to his left, giving Cumberland’s leader an inquisitive look. “It was a lot easier than you’d think” Jade replies, one arm draped over the side of the truck bed, the other hanging over her bent knee, “at first, all we needed to do was cut off the entry points along two freeways.”
“Aren’t most freeways littered with dead cars?” Lauren asks, sat near the rear of the vehicle, “wouldn’t that be enough of a cut off?” With a shrug, Jade responds whilst looking down the road ahead, her hair thrown by unusually cold winds. “Sometimes, it could be. But there were plenty of times where they caused trouble” Jade replies, her poised and animated demeanour never letting up, “after a year or so, we got in contact with Nova Scotia and the rest was history.”
Quiet, the ride persists as it had been, veering around automobile-scattered roads in favour of slicing through thick grass, muddy trails, and rocky hills. “How’d you find out about Nova Scotia?” Salem calls out, the distance from the conversation failing to keep her from listening in. “They found us” Jade replies, lifting her voice just slightly in Salem’s direction, “if I’m being specific, it was Courtney that found us. She must have seen a fire from above, I never asked how.”
“So she just- flew out of the sky and asked to talk to you?” Alicia replies, slightly amused by the image she’s left to picture, “and you went along with whatever she said?” Aware of the humour taken, Jade maintains her presence, answering the question directly. “When gas is scarce and someone flies down from the sky with a full jerry can, you don’t tend to fire at them” the confident lady replies, “and when they say they can get you more, you don’t tend to doubt them.”
Peering through the sunvisor's mirror, Salem watches Jade in the reflection, intently studying the woman. “We met with some of their officials, we negotiated a deal, and expanded the town out to its natural borders” Jade concludes, allowing her legs to stretch out across the flatbed, “we’ve been bringing in people since then- about two years at this point.”
“How many people do you have now?” Lauren murmurs, tilting her head back to look out at the sky. “We’ve taken in just under three thousand people- including you. The majority of the town were people that already lived there- that helped us cut off the entry points” Jade replies, quickly finding herself interrupted. “How many people already lived there?” Lauren cuts in, turning her head in the woman’s direction, desiring an answer.
“We’ve taken two counts, one ourselves and one with Nova-” Jade begins to reply, again interrupted by the woman on the other side of Emilio. “What’s the number?” Lauren doubles down, the hint of anger beginning to creep into her voice. Her eyes pulling toward Lauren’s direction, Jade pauses to allow the woman respite, “just a little over twenty thousand.”
“And you couldn’t make room for an extra six?” Alicia queries, obviously growing resentful. “It’s not that we couldn’t, it’s that we shouldn’t” Jade replies, pulling her arms away from the vehicle’s sides, beginning to speak with them as her response continues. “We can’t just make exceptions for one group when we wouldn’t for any other” the leader explains, beginning to speak with more vigour, “we take the strongest, the smartest, the most adapt, and the most trustworthy. No exceptions.”
“So what made us different from the others?” Emilio quickly asks, quashing the emotional escalation he can sense rise near its boiling point, “why are we any of those things the others aren’t?” His face turning to the left, Emilio looks into Jade’s eyes, his question asked calmly, his demeanour unarguably unthreatening. Tongue gliding over her bottom lip, Jade’s head pulls away, briefly considering her options.
“Jack was too skeptical of everything, Clint was worthless in combat, and, as tempted as I was to give Franklin the nod, it’d take a miracle for Nova Scotia to accept a handicap” Jade begins, offering her answers in quick succession, “Katie never truly thinking to mourn for her brother didn’t sit well with me, and Jess just didn’t fucking try. Does that cover it?”
Panning around the vehicle, Jade looks for reactions, waiting for an answer. “It covers half” Emilio soon responds, watching the woman’s face look back to his own, “what made you choose us?” Letting out a steady breath, Jade lulls herself into a regained composure, answering for each person whilst looking them in the eyes.
“Alicia’s judo background can allow her to train some of our own for combat, which makes her valuable in multiple ways” Jade replies, continuing in the order the passengers reside. “Angela understands what her priorities are, isn’t afraid to question herself, and can question things that appear simple for what they are” Jade persists, turning past Emilio, “Lauren displays the ability to do what’s necessary, even in times of difficulty. She’ll make the right call because it’s the right call.”
Her eyes falling upon Emilio, Jade goes quiet, plenty to say with such little time. “As for you, I’m shocked you weren’t their leader sooner” Jade remarks, resting her hands over the sides of the truck again, “you’ve survived the lowest times, never stray a beat from ‘Humble Road’, and have the wherewithal to calm a situation by speaking. You were a no-brainer.”
His head lowering, Emilio’s attempt to hide his appreciation is aided by Salem’s voice calling out. “You’re forgetting about someone” Salem proclaims, dangling her right hand through the open window. “Do I really need to elaborate on why you’re here?” Jade responds, again letting humour gradually seep into the journey, “I let you call shotgun, doesn’t that say enough?” Her back pressing against the seat, Salem’s face sprouts a grin, almost as if discovering validation.
The ride reaching its natural conclusion, Archie guides the vehicle over a hill and back onto paved street, the asphalt the group reaches no longer covered in thick overgrowth. “We like to make our little town look aesthetically pleasing” Jade remarks, noticing the many eyes around her begin to peer out at the clear roadways, almost in shock, “first impressions are important to us.”
Speechless, the group settles back into their spots, not wanting to appear anything less than the image Jade’s bestowed upon them. Within another few feet, the road becomes surrounded by well-trimmed trees, their branches lined with rows of Christmas lights as the vehicle begins to slow. “McKee party, five passengers, all vetted, no wounded, no sick” Archie lists, peering through his window toward a man, who stands with a rifle atop a well-hidden platform.
“McKee, five vetted, no wounded, no sick” the man relays, shouting down a path of road concealed behind a large, industrial fortification. “Let them in” the man finally urges additional, unseen crew workers, granting them permission to part the barricaded structure, allowing the vehicle re-entry. “Thanks, Sal” Jade murmurs, raising her hand to the platform-stood man as the flatbed passes through the gates, the man’s smile and wave coming from a long-lost era of civility.
Glancing back at her residential additions, Jade notices the unnatural looks upon the group’s collective faces, all hiding their deep wonder behind masks of general placidity. “It’s alright for this to feel weird- you haven’t had this in years. It’s normal” Jade comforts, watching every eye dawn upon her, hesitant to give into the allure a simple palisade. Most opting to look away, Lauren keeps her eyes placed upon Jade, who notices this gesture and shrugs.
Driving an additional few miles, the truck passes a large, concrete sign in the middle of a roundabout, its lights lighting the town’s name, which stands chiselled into stone. The streets well-groomed, the grass well-maintained, and the trees well-trimmed, a paradise the survivors could only dream of embraces them within its embrace. “Like I said before” Jade proclaims once more, watching every pair of eyes steer back toward her, “it’s normal.”
= 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 =
Groaning as he rolls onto his side, Jack pulls his head from the small of his arm and wipes the crust from his eyes, still feeling the warmth of the campfire woft over his face. “Don’t wake up the others” Nessie whispers, taking notice of his awakening from the steps above. Paying the woman a glance, Jack peers across the stairwell, where Clint and Franklin remain asleep on their respective, marble platforms.
Keeping his groans contained, Jack rolls onto his back as his hands roll over his forehead, his sweat having given his skin a glossy sheen. “How long have-?” Jack begins to whisper, only pausing as his hands pass by his face, the ring on his left hand momentarily reflecting the fire nearby. “I’ve been up for a few hours” Nessie replies, nibbling at a cooked piece of fat, “the fire was dying out, I just chose to stay up.”
Pulling himself up, Jack slides against the marble wall behind himself, using it as a backrest to sit against. “We need to figure out where to go from here” Jack stammers, slowly letting himself cycle through the motions of waking up. “Oh yeah, what’ve you got in mind, sleepy?” Nessie replies, her teeth pressing into her scrambled-together breakfast.
“We need a place to stay, we should start with that” Jack replies, hands folded in his lap, “figure out where our next meal comes from, that’ll help.” With a nod, Nessie kicks one foot over the other and replies with humour. “While we’re at it, we should find a plane, make a trip out to the Bahamas and check into a hotel” Nessie replies, her eyes trailing over to the man below, “you’ve thought of it all.”
His eyes rolling, Jack presses his head against the stone backdrop, leaving the question in Nessie’s hands. “If you’re gonna criticise me, I’ll assume you have a better plan of your own” Jack replies, paying a look toward a suddenly less-amused Nessie, her eyes rolling as she turns away, “I thought so.”
“Why do we need a plan?” Nessie suddenly retorts, lowering herself closer to Jack while she carries the leather cover to a notepad, its usage now as a plate for slices of cooked meat. “What’s the alternative?” Jack replies, the fabric of his shirt riding higher with each shrug of his shoulders, “live life day-to-day until we fall into another camp?”
“Would that be so bad?” Nessie cuts back, watching as Jack quickly attempts to restate his point. “I’m not against it, but I’d like to know that we’re trying to get somewhere” the man replies, graciously accepting a slab of buck. “Never living outside of a city might play a big part in that” Nessie replies, wrapping a blanket over her legs while pulling herself closer to the fire.
“The city life is always about the ‘hustle and bustle’. You start your day, you end your day, repeat. You’re always working up to something” Nessie explains, her legs pulled up to her chest, “when all that goes away, life just happens. You’re not scrambling to meet a deadline, or dying to get to five o’clock- you just live.”
“You can’t do that without a plan?” Jack replies, ripping a piece of meat from its slab. “You can, but it’d be stupid to” Nessie replies, waving her hand out at the dark, apocalyptic scene surrounding them, “when the tunnel vision clears- this is what you’re left with. Just the world as it is. No phones, no deadlines, no end to the work day- just what’s around you.”
Quiet, Jack stares at the top of the stairs, the top half of city hall’s entrance peering over the top-most step. “Let’s start with dinner” Nessie concludes, patting Jack on the knee as she climbs up, “we can stay here all we want, but we’re going to need food.” Without another word, Nessie places the leather plate beside Jack and walks off, arming herself with a mallet as she descends the stairs, making for the front doors.
“Welcome to my home” Jade greets, climbing over the lowered tailgate and onto her stone-paved driveway. “This is your home?” Alicia replies, the lavish mansion the McKee siblings depart toward bewildering her. “This isn’t just our home” Jade replies, turning around with her arms stretched out, “this is 18 Rawson- the heartbeat of Cumberland.”
“18 Rawson?” Salem replies, the only guest remotely unimpressed. “It’s the address. Like ‘10 Downing Street’, or ‘24 Sussex’- it’s the leader’s home” Jade replies, turning back for the front door, “anything that has to do with official business- negotiations, fundraising, supply-spending… It all happens here.”
“And why are we here?” Salem rejoinders, slamming her door shut as she ducks into the strap of her rifle. Leading her key into the doorknob, Jade glances back at the woman with a smile. “Did you think we were just gonna drop you on the side of the road and figure it out from there?” Jade replies, pushing the front door open before vanishing inside.
“The town functions like any town you’ve seen before, the only difference is the environment around it” Jade explains, leading the dirty survivors through her hardwood-floored home. “The landlines work, we have hot water, most homes are fitted with solar panels, and most people get around by bike” Jade rattles in quick succession, “dial 0-0-0 if you see a corpse stumbling around, and our crew of just over five hundred will rush over and take care of it- just as if it were a fire or criminal.”
Setting her keys into a bowl on the dining table, Jade proceeds through the larger home, continuing her introduction. “The people will be kind, but they’re competitive. You’re all fighting for the same thing- a ticket” Jade explains, sinking her teeth into an apple as she steps into the kitchen, “serve your settlement extremely well and that ticket will be yours. That said, those tickets are hard to come by, so there’s a fair chance you’ll spend the rest of your lives here.”
“You make it sound like that’s a bad thing” Alicia replies, still slightly astounded at what surrounds her. “It’s not, but I won’t pretend it’s the ‘cream of the crop’” Jade replies, climbing atop a bar stool and ushering her guests to claim any of the unoccupied seats. “We’ve got similar luxuries- armed safety, stocked store shelves, medicine, fucking football- we have plenty” Jade explains, her finger rising into the air, “but, and I speak from experience, it’s not Nova Scotia.”
“Why would we want to go to Nova Scotia then?” Salem replies, the only guest not to take Jade’s offer of a seat, “I don’t suppose everyone has a taste for ‘the big city’.” Her head shaking, Jade finishes her bite before speaking. “That doesn’t matter. It’s just like L.A, or New York- as long as enough people do, the ticket will always be in high demand” Jade explains, sinking her teeth into the bright-red fruit, “if you wish to spend the rest of your life here, that’s your choice.”
Sharing glances in each other’s direction, the group remains observant, waiting for someone to raise the first question. “Why keep aligning yourself with the New World Order?” Emilio wonders aloud, setting his sights on any of the McKee siblings for an answer, “if you’ve got it this good, what’s holding you back?”
Sharing a laugh, the McKee’s hand the answer off to the oldest of the quarter. “Oil- nothing more, nothing less” Archie replies, pressing his hands together, “without their oil, this place isn’t standing. We can arm ourselves to the teeth, but Cumberland won’t buy anything more than another lost cause on a map of one thousand other lost causes.”
“You can’t make your own oil?” Salem replies in somewhat of a suspicious tone, earning another laugh from the man. “We can make whatever we want. Medicine, food, alcohol, oil- you name it, and we have a way of making it” Archie replies, trying to hide the smile on his face, “but it’s not about being fundamentally independent, it’s about the ecosystem set up here.”
“Elaborate” Emilio cuts in, interested enough to sit back with his arms crossed. “You see, people don’t tend to think two-dimensionally when it comes to power- which is partly why Angela was invited here” Archie explains, “the key to ruling this world isn’t food- it’s not weaponry, or medicine- it’s oil, it’s gas, it’s fuel.”
“We get that” Emilio replies, waiting for the point to come about, “they set up a refinery and took the keys to the kingdom, we un-”
“No, that’s not what they did” Archie interjects, watching Emilio’s eyes begin to squint as he’s cut off. “I’ll cut it to you like this- what is refined oil worth if no one’s around to buy it?” Archie inquires, his eyes floating across the table like a lost dog, waiting for a hand to raise. “The lifeline to their grasp on power isn’t the oil- it’s the consumer” Archie proceeds, watching Emilio’s head begin to fall back, finding the path he’s been led toward.
“They knew the world was going to hell, and that’s why they set up these compounds. And when those fell, they adjusted” Archie remarks, matching Emilio’s head lean, “they needed consumers and couldn’t rely on their compounds any more. So they helped set up settlements they could get to produce goods, controlled the flow of those goods, and made sure the most priceless good on the market was the one they controlled.”
“Why did you say ‘no’?” Jack inquires, following Nessie through thick clumps of grass, their destination yet to be determined. “I beg your pardon?” Nessie replies, walking a few steps ahead of the man. “Well, I pardon your beg” Jack mocks, his joke received with a silent shake of the head, “but seriously, why didn’t you go?”
“Why would I leave my brother behind?” Nessie replies, glancing over her shoulder at the man, thinking nothing of the question. “Because you’re not the only person that can look after him” Jack replies, one hand cradling the handle to his screwdriver, whilst his other rests in his pocket, “I think you already knew that.”
Watching her step, Nessie continues to walk, no slower, nor faster, than before. “Are you trying to make a point?” Nessie replies, laying her mallet over the hood of a rundown car, “because, if so, you’re not doing a great job.” Slowly catching up, Jack occupies to seat beside Nessie, his face engulfed in the light of a midday sun. “I don’t think that’s because I lack a point to my question” Jack replies, resting against a shattered windshield, “I think you just don’t want to acknowledge it.”
Quiet, Nessie turns toward Jack, waiting for him to continue. “Were your parents abusive?” Jack suddenly inquires, asking with no ounce of ignominy. “E- excuse me?” Nessie replies, the man’s unchanged expression becoming the source of an unreasonable anger. “You’re always there to protect him, and I mean always there” Jack replies, his eyes still shut, “you’re less his sister, and more like his mother. Logic would suggest that, for you to look over him like this, it’s cause someone else wasn’t.”
Irate, Nessie presses her fingers together and slaps the man across the face before picking up her weapon and leaving. “I wasn’t implying you were an awful mother” Jack jokes, aware of the woman’s anger despite his lack of care over it. “What the fuck gives you the right to say that!?” Nessie shouts, flustered with an anger largely unlike her.
“Does it matter?” Jack replies, rolling back to the ground before approaching the woman once more. “Yeah, it matters- to me!” Nessie exclaims, noticing the unapologetic demeanour Jack responds with. “Well, I’m so sorry I found a button of yours to poke” Jack replies, his own anger beginning to set in.
“Do you think this is funny?” Nessie replies, tossing her mallet to the side as she walks up to Jack, visibly confrontational. “No, what I find hilarious is that I’d have the balls to tell my wife to leave for her own good, and you were too concerned with sheltering Clint from the world to make the same choice” Jack replies, anger turning into bitter rage.
“It was my choice” Nessie replies, those four words the only ones she’s able to say before Jack interrupts. “And you made the wrong one!” Jack shouts back, quickly becoming more enraged than the woman who began the conflict, “everyone left except you! Why did everyone leave except you!?”
“Because I chose to!” Nessie barks, watching Jack’s hands throw into the air as he walks away, de-escalating the conversation as quickly as it went off the rails. Leaving without his weapon, Nessie watches the man step off, seconds continuing to pass without him turning around. “What has gotten into you!?” Nessie exclaims, ushering the man back with the simple question.
“What’s gotten into me!?” WHAT’S GOTTEN INTO ME!?” Jack shouts, returning the way he came as his anger consumes him. “What’s gotten into-!?” Jack barks once more, cutting himself off with an inaudible shout as he reaches the car, his body turning to the left as he winds his hand back, sending his fist through the intact driver’s window. “FUCK!” Jack yells, ripping his arm through the shattered glass in a wave of pain, its sensation taking over for the burst of anger.
“Why did you do that!?” Nessie exclaims, the anger she’d felt rush through her body immediately turning into concern as she watches Jack drop to the ground. Refusing to answer, Jack groans as he wraps his palm around the open wound, the blood running down the side of his hand as Nessie kneels beside him. “Wrap this around it” the woman orders, her scarf spun over the man’s hand, “hold it tight.”
“We’ve got a problem!” Clint shouts, running down the street from city hall as Franklin follows closely behind. “Little busy right now!” Nessie shouts back, preoccupied with tying the ends of her scarf together. “Jess is gone!” Franklin shouts, watching the pair turn toward him with wide eyes, his concern only growing. “What!?” Jack exclaims, pulling away from Nessie to regather himself.
“We’ve looked everywhere- she’s not here!” Franklin replies, his heavy breaths turning to a frosty chill, “she’s gone.”
Rolling to a stop, the McKee’s truck halts outside of a large, blue-coloured home just below the top of a hill, it’s right occupied by a smaller home, and it’s left taken by the natural treeline it sits within. “This is your stop” Jade remarks, handing out copies of house keys to her now-former guests. The first to disembark the vehicle, Emilio steps to the hill’s edge, looking down at the spacious, two-family townhouse with a comforted expression.
“You’re just giving this to us?” Angela replies, the next to approach the hill’s edge, “for free?” Reclaiming the passenger’s seat from Salem, Jade responds. “It may be hard to come by a six-bedroom house in this town, but I managed” the woman explains, hanging her hand out through the open window, “I don’t want any homeless around here.”
“So, we just live our lives?” Alicia replies, watching Salem step down the hill without much of a reaction. “You get a job, you buy your goods, you pay your bills… It’s life as it was with a few updates” Jade replies, patting the side of her door as the truck begins to accelerate, “welcome home, boys and girls.”
With that, the McKee’s exit just as they’d arrived, pleased with their introduction and ready to move on. “Something about this doesn’t feel good” Lauren whispers, the few seconds spent staring with surprise offering her time to reflect. “I feel the same thing” Emilio replies, both Alicia and Angela turning in his direction, “like this doesn’t feel right anymore.”
Watching Salem disappear inside the left-most door, not a word more to offer than what she’s already given. “We’re just not used to this” Angela concludes, walking up to a garbage bin on the side of the road and discarding her knife in it, choosing to move forward, “it’ll get better” she vows, climbing down the hill and stepping through the right-most entrance.
“It shouldn’t feel good” Alicia cuts in, standing between Emilio and Lauren, more hope within her response than the rest, “but I suppose that shouldn’t stop us.” Breaking off, Alicia descends the hill, following Salem into the eastern wing of the home. The last remaining, Lauren looks to Emilio uncomfortably, her expression saying what she can’t put into words.
Giving in, Lauren follows the group’s lead, climbing down the hill and leading herself into the eastern wing as Emilio watches, unsure of how to respond. “You’re new” an unfamiliarly feminine voice remarks, jogging toward him in a light jacket and performance shorts. “Yeah, we just got here” Emilio replies, retreating to a friendly greeting, his hand extended with a smile as if the world never changed.
“I’m Emilio” the man introduces himself, feeling the woman’s warm hand find his own. “Anastasia, but my friends call me ‘Annie’” the woman replies, quick to stop and move on, “I’ve gotta get home before I convince myself to take a break- but, uh, welcome to the neighbourhood!”
“Yeah- yeah, thanks” Emilio replies, watching the woman leave as she arrives, his concerns melting like the snow that puddles along the ground. His smile still present, Emilio takes his attention back to the home, its many windows illuminating one after the other, his group challenging the claims of electricity. Bowing his head, Emilio convinces himself to descend the hill and follow the order, retreating to the comfort of the right-most door, and closing it on his way inside.
== Rise ==