Had Wesley been the overly sentimental type, he might have walked away after escorting Kenneth into the arena. After all, he'd caught glimpses of the young man's would-be opponent, Andrew, and while he might be a bit up there in years, he was clearly in shape and carried himself with confidence. The dangerous, trained sort of confidence. There was a good chance, he knew, that this wouldn't end well for the kid.
But, frankly, Wesley wasn't the sentimental type. And two, he was charged with at least ostensibly keeping an eye on the gate while the fight was in-progress... just in case. So now he watched through the slats of the metal portal into hell, as the two men squared off... only for Kenneth's opponent to throw a curveball into the mix. Wes folded his arms, eyebrow arched. He'd seen men have all sorts of reactions inside the fighting pit, but grandstanding like this wasn't one of them. This was new, though he doubted it would end well. One thing was for certain, though: if Kenneth had any sort of chance, this was it.
"Go get that motherfucker," Wesley hissed under his breath through clenched teeth, willing the young man to take the initiative while he could -- before the choice was made for him.
But then someone was talking back to Andrew, just as loud. Just as indignant, except this voice came from the crowd. Wesley's eyes scanned the spectators until he spotted Weston, tearing into the prisoner with words as he approached the cage side -- making an example of him. That was understandable. Emmett might not be King, but he was savvy enough to understand that the point of these spectacles was to do just that: shame the offenders and send a message to any others who might have... ideas. Considering what Andrew's plot had nearly cost Weston personally, it made sense that he might feel some sort of way about that. Hell, in his shoes Wesley would want to be the one in the cage to personally beat the shit out of him. So he didn't hold it against the Second to get his verbal licks in.
Not until he reached for the gun, that is.
It was like watching a car accident in slow-motion, unable to do anything about it. The safety coming off. Was he going to kill Andrew here and now? Then, Wesley realized, his plans were worse. Much worse.
"Goddamnit, Weston! Don't!" the enforcer barked -- too late -- from his perch at the gate on the opposite side of the pit, all sense of propriety towards his nominal superior lost as he watched the loaded gun land inside the cage between the two combatants. Before he knew it, Wesley's own pistol was out, at the ready as his heart hammered in his chest... watching and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Connor's Kevlar dug trenches into his skin with the chinstrap as he hopped down step after step of a strip mall situated somewhere in the downtown. Long gone were the sirens and panic of weeks past and it was now replaced by a silence filled only by the dead. Shops reached out at him from either side covered in boards, graffiti, and torn security shutters; the concrete before him lay covered in discarded corpses and shell casings-- proof his platoon had been through here at some point in the last month. Connor finally stopped running and doubled over on himself to suck in air. Sweat bled through his clothes and his plate carrier seemed to have gained fifty pounds between where he and his fireteam had run into that horde and here, but he couldn't stop moving now. It was better to keep moving even if they had been separated temporarily.
The soldier wrenched his torso upward in urgency while his feet carried him into a speed-walk again. The M4 Carbine in his hands swept the space ahead of him, but it was a mere comfort considering he had only a handful of rounds left before he was black on ammo. The red dot of the CCO seemed to pull him into a tunnel-visioned trance as it captured storefronts and empty streets before finally stopping on two infected.
Adrenaline and fear tore through his veins in equal amounts. His hand tightened around the grip of the M4 and he settled on the couple for a moment, a man and woman in their early thirties who looked to be trying to make it out of the city. They were slapping into the rear window of a sedan in a vain attempt to get inside; the infected seemed plenty distracted. Connor lowered his weapon into a high-ready as he joined them on the street and then turned to head the opposite direction before the object of the couple's attention caught his eye, a young boy. He seemed to be no older than eleven and he was packed away into the back with various supplies he seemed to have been chewing through-- his face covered in tears and snot as he struggled to open the door and get out to what used to be his family.
The soldier watched on in a morbid fascination for a few seconds before once again turning to leave. He didn't have the ammo or time to commit to saving a kid. Then, his heart sank. Altogether, Connor snapped out of survival mode and took a look at himself. If he couldn't save a kid when he needed help because it would inconvenience him, what kind of person was this situation turning him into? He snapped on heel to face the sedan once more, and levelled his M4 at the couple.
He used his non-firing hand to wave at the kid from behind the two infected in an attempt to grab his attention. It worked. The kid immediately began to scream and cry at him for help and a creature with any intelligence would've know he was behind them, but the infected were simply drawn to the kid even more. Connor clasped his hands over his eyes in his best attempt to play peek-a-boo with the child, but he simply kept screaming.
At that moment, a staccato of gunfire swallowed the silence a mere few blocks away-- likely the remnants of Connor's fireteam. It was now or never if he was gonna get this kid out of here. The soldier positioned himself adjacent to the car so he wouldn't be firing toward the child and set his sight upon the head of the woman. It was a smooth squeeze of the trigger.
The woman slumped against the car and left a red spray along the rear window before the man reared his head toward Connor with a wretched snarl. Life had long since abandoned the gentleman's features giving way to empty gray eyes, pale skin that sunk to show veins and bone, and that thick anger that clogged the air around them. The man jetted off in a dead-sprint toward Connor as he sat perfectly still.
Sternum. Throat. Left eye Socket.
The man's body staggered in awkward convulsions before slumping to the ground at the soldier's feet. Connor let the shock of the recoil disipate for a half-second before inspecting his ejection port and seeing the bolt had locked to the rear-- he was out of ammo. A frown invaded his face while he made for the door. The kid sat inside the sedan staring at Connor through the window stained with his mother's blood. It was a face hollowed of all emotion. The face of someone whose whole world had been taken from them in a single moment. The face of someone staring down the man responsible.
Connor tried the handle to no avail and then hauled back to smash the window with the stock of his rifle. Safety glass rained into the back seat and jolted the kid out of his stupor and into another crying fit.
"Quiet the fuck down kid--"
It was too late. The howls of the dead echoed from behind him in the strip mall and he knew he had no time left for gentle coaxing. Connor slung his rifle, snatched the child into his arms, ran down the street, and switched his radio off. Whatever life he had behind him was over; this kid was his responsibility now.
Connor stepped out of the house stricken with mold, damage, decay. He breathed in air that had been devoid of car exhaust for more than a year and a half and felt some kind of serenity wash over him. His beard was a welcome comfort as he scratched as his cheek and gazed at a world being swallowed up by both nature and the dead. The streets around him had begun to crack and give way to various weeds and grass, houses were losing color as their paint began to chip from repeated battery by the elements, and that silence he had begun to get accustomed to from the start of all of this. It was calming and terrifying at the same time.
The door behind him closed and out marched Tanner with a look of quiet worry painted so apparently on his face.
Connor spoke, softly, "You okay kiddo?"
"No. How could I be after that?"
"You're gonna have to be."
Tanner's brown eyes locked with Connor's as a moment of silent conversation floated between them. Without another word, Connor took one last look at the bandages up and down both his arms and started down the street. Tanner slung his backpack and walked along side him.
The two ventured down a long avenue and along the outskirts of the city for a while passing pile-ups and the occasional walker staggering around. This was their world and they manuevered through it as they would everyday life as it was now their every day life; there wasn't an obstacle the two of them couldn't tackle together.
Finally, they reached a blockade in the road, an old military checkpoint. Standing in the only piece of road that lead in and out was one of the dead. Staggering. Stinking. Gnashing its teeth at the air.
Tanner spoke up first, "I'll deal with it."
Connor protested, "The hell you will, bo--"
"I do it all the time."
"I know, but that's when we don't have a choice."
"You've got my back! Besides, I'm almost thirteen now!"
"Ha-ha, cover me."
Connor reluctantly nodded and his hand sunk to his belt and hovered near his trusty .45 Smith and Wesson M&P M2.0. With a cautious confidence, Tanner whipped the aluminum bat from his back and sized up the creature who was still pressing a slow advance. Tanner ran up, hauled back, and delivered a strike that sounded like a bowling ball striking pins against the side of the man's head. The infected smashed to the ground like a bag of bricks and only spasmed every couple of seconds. Tanner raised his bat over his head and delivered the final, crushing blow.
Blood decorated the boy's face as he beamed a smile toward Connor as though he had just gotten an A on his report card. Such was the world, madness was mundane. The ex-soldier strutted over to Tanner and ruffled the boy's hair, "Good job. Come on-- we've got a ways to go."
The duo set off into the city. Their destination? Northview High.
It all happened so fast. The entire first floor of the hospital became overrun in seconds. King, holding off one of the dead could see his own reflection in the demon’s eyes. He saw fear, the fear of failure - a look he had not seen since the passing of his younger brother. Then it quickly faded when Toni headlocked the monster, pinning him defenseless and pressing a bullet through the side of its head. In that sheer second of freedom, King took off towards the stairs - shrugging off the hands that clawed at his back, seizing the opportunity to escape.
Rushing up the steps, the dead followed close behind. Despite being quicker than any of them, when the things grouped together like so they became a force of nature. Like ants, they stepped over one another to get to the food first - a wave of hungry, thirsting pests. King found himself dodging some of the tumbling walkers that came from above, jumping over those that were already taken care of by the others and swinging his pistol at the ones that stood in his way - leaving a trail of red in his wake. Toni followed closely, holding the rear as the two approached the roof. He was a good soldier, but disposable, so King had to be first.
Finding himself jetting through to the roof, King ordered Toni to shut the exit door behind them and hold his position. “Close that thing, don’t let anything come out!” He took deep breaths, fixing his demeanor and suit as his eyes adjusted to the light that beamed over them. He felt an unpleasant gust of wind as he rallied with the others, feeling a sense of tension in the group.
King nodded at Lawrence for keeping Gunderson and their mission safe as his fingertips smushed the drop of sweat coming from his hairline. They had lost a few members of their convoy, but their golden goose was safe, that’s all that mattered at that moment. Despite feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances, a rush of adrenaline pumped through his veins. The emotions and sensations he felt running through the downstairs with a knife on his throat reminded him of the good old days. It had been a while since he felt that way and it made him feel even more powerful than ever before. “Get to work Gunderson, we have to-“ he started, being cut off by the sudden rise of arms by Denise.
He shifted towards her, who unexpectedly raised her weapon and pointed her scope towards their mechanic Rocky. King turned nonchalantly to find Rocky curling up his sleeve and revealing a bite mark on his forearm. Blood gushed from the seemingly already infected wound, King swore he could see it pulse like a heartbeat. He turned towards Gunderson and the helicopter, watching the unfinished work and lack of propeller rotation or engine noise he wished would have already been on by the time he got to the roof. “You can’t rely on anyone these days,” he murmured to himself with a sigh.
With a gentle palm, King pressed Denise’s muzzle down, nodding left and right with a negative command - not allowing her to take the shot. Rocky pleaded to what seemed like deaf ears, asking them to please spare him, but today was his lucky day - the deaf could hear. With hands up to express safety, King made it known that no harm would come to Rocky, that he was one of them and they needed him to help repair the helicopter. “You have my word, you will return to Lincoln in one piece,” King assured. “But we need this helicopter up in the air first,” he added, pointing at the machine behind them.
“So let’s get to work gentlemen!”
As the group started to gather towards the chopper, King instructed Denise and Toni to stay on alert in case the door back to the hospital didn’t hold. King himself started towards Lawrence, approaching him in silence as the rest became busy with certain appointed tasks. He leaned into his man. “Rocky does not get on that helicopter, understood?”
Buster stared at the other man with a grin plastered to his face. Unmoving. Something in his eyes hinting danger. Hearing the woman and the girls move towards the exit, he didn't. His strong body propped on the crutches braced. He wouldn't give North much space to go past him. Would use a crutch to trip the guy if he tried.
But the radio crackled with the Northview leader's voice. "Sentries, lay down your weapons. Everyone, stay calm and report to the front of the building."
Greg turned, taking his time and most of the space towards the exit as he hobbled and went through the door, heading after the girls. Nari apparently understood the kind of situation they were in because she eventually headed for the exit. To the front of the building.
Buster followed and as soon as they stepped out they could see more and more people leaving the safe walls of their home. Exposing themselves to the raiders that parked their vehicles and began to infest the perimeter. Greg was no military, he wasn't a criminal either, but he could tell the kind of breed these people were. Hyper vigilant he stopped and watched. His eyes trained on the bandit leader that walked in Font's company.
Doormat for a long while, Greg was ready for violence.
The last streaks of dusk waned across the darkening heavens. Early evening brought cold winds that howled across the meadows and tugged the black forests surrounding the prison. As soon as the night swallowed the area there was not a single source of light. No moon other than the thinnest crest and stars scattered in the inky skyscape.
With another scrape of the flint the flame flared in front of Freddie's face, illuminating the inner side of his curled palm. The light wavered with another blow of the chilling breeze.
"Tsk."Give a man a break.
The air stilled and the tip of the cigarette hissed ablaze. The enforcer inhaled triumphantly and clinked-closed the lighter, burying his features in the dark. He could barely see the smoke coiling in front of him. And others could only see the tip burning like embers.
"Let's spread, people." He told his fellow patrolmen and the group split.
Freddie walked with his rifle hanging off his shoulder and kept his hands in his pockets. Only occasionally reaching up to the cigarette to trap it between stiff fingers. He wished he was wearing the gloves from Nana Byrd, his ex-wife's grandmother. They had to be somewhere in the house in town, probably in the drawers. He should ask one of the Scavengers to check for him. That cursed North front, or whatever it was that brought the freezing air so early in the year. He didn't even want to think how cold it would get in those concrete cells come winter. Maybe they'd start sharing again just for warmth. Who would he share it with? They'd probably give him Barnes. Again. Dumb Barnes and his farts-fests. If Freddie had a say he'd like to share with Denise. She was a solid woman, handsome and strong. Not like he could share it with his ex… Sometimes the man wondered. If she'd come back to him now, when her Casanova was dead. The douchebag sure had it coming. Not that Freddie had anything to do with it, though.
Hofstadter wouldn't call himself the sentimental type. But as he strolled the black dirt path, parallel to the main road leading to Lincoln, his mind drifted to the old days. When he would stay in bed with his old lady. Getting him late to work, that woman. She was a vixen. But when she wanted to she could be an angel. Of course he missed her. How could he not after all those years sharing one bed and one roof. Too bad she shared their bed with Brad too.
"Shit." His boot caught on a rock and he tripped, clattering forth. His knees and palms hit the hard ground. Making him swear at the asshole who forbade them using flashlights and told them to patrol on the night so close to the New Moon.
As he begun climbing back to his feet, something told Freddie that night wouldn't end well.
His heart pounded as the gun banged against the dirty concrete. Flash of silver metal caught in his eye before his gaze darted to the boy. He could tell Kenny struggled with the idea of shooting a human like that. But he wanted to live.
The young man lunged at the weapon and Andrew sprung off his place. Roars showered the silence once again as Kenny grasped the grip, about to raise and aim. But he never did. Andrew wasn't as fast but he was much better trained.
Their half-naked bodies clashed and the soldier thrust himself into the boy's space, uppercutting Kenny with his elbow and getting a hold of the gun-wielding hand. He shoved the muzzle down while the boy stumbled back. Right on time as the deafening crack banged in the large cage, echoing in the acoustic space and down the hallways. The bullet bit into the floor by the bars, making some people recoil back, others howl louder and rattle the cage with the surge of excitement.
Kenny fell back into dust. Hitting his tailbone on the hard landing he cried out. His eyes went wet yet still filled with fire.
"Don't." The soldier backed up, clicking the magazine off. It dropped and struck the floor, falling on the side. "Stay down." He warned.
With one bullet in the chamber he kept his arms at half ready as he took a moment to look around. Feeling his pulse jumping in his neck and blood rushing in his ears, the man forced his body and mind into submission. Now it was clear. What he had to do.
Looking at the boy he raised his arms and pointed at Kenny's chest.
"Is this what you want?" His solemn voice rang as the cheers died down. His gaze once more skimming the faces in the crowd before it set on the VIP section.
"Is this what you want, lady?" His stormy eyes fixed directly on Valentine. Before skipping to Weston for the briefest moment. "You want me to shoot this boy like your boyfriend is telling me to?"
His jaw set, forehead crested. How could he not condemn those people? But… Andrew knew the world was filled with shades of gray. And he hoped some of the souls within the prison walls were not beyond redemption.
"Home." Andrew lowered the gun in one hand and turned to face Weston.
"Home ripped open with betrayal is a tragedy." He didn't know if Kenny was part of the rebels. He didn't even know if the rumours about the rebels were true. "But betraying our humanity when mankind is on the brink of extinction is a true catastrophe." He swallowed and put his head up high, glancing around.
"I can promise you there are people who still fight for it! Who don't build their homes on the misery of others! There is still hope!"
He looked back at the Second in Command and slowly raised his aim at him, saying. "And I promise." His finger slipped over the trigger, about to curl. "They will come for you."
Night cast inky shadow across the landscape swallowing up eyesight and any hope of making a hasty advance no matter how well one knew the area. They had elected to travel the main road in an effort to maintain speed while not getting lost. Trees reached out at them from just over the worn road barrier along the side of the asphalt and the occasional rush of chilling wind made them dance like mess of tangled limbs threatening to tear them screaming into the void, but that only held as much water as one allowed their mind to wander. Focusing his mind on the task at hand, Connor scanned as far as he could in the black that seemed to take the place of everything that had ever been in the world to no avail; he imagined that the infected would have an equally difficult time spotting them, though.
The man shot a glance to Tanner who was equally tense and scanning the edges of their vision and clasped a hand on his shoulder pulling him close. It was a minor addition to their warmth as another gust cut through their outer layers, but it was more of a mental comfort of each other's presence than anything. They had been walking for a solid couple hours now and worked up a bit of a sweat with their packs weighing them down, and now this numbing cold was starting to turn things dangerous. Shelter was starting to become a desperate necessity for the two. Fucking cold fronts out of nowhere. Making matters worse, Connor caught the occasional mossy, damp whiff of air blowing in along with the freeze and he hoped it wouldn't rain.
Tanner spoke up in a timid hush as though suggesting another plan was something foreign-- it was, "Connor... I'm really cold."
The ex-soldier's heart tensed as though someone had snagged it and squeezed their grip. The two sidestepped a couple of vehicle husks that had plowed against one another in a 'T' shape in order to take refugee behind it for a moment; the cars were pressed against the guard rail. Connor unhooked his rucksack and lowered it to the ground gently as not to damage it before whispering, "Hey buddy, let me see your backpack."
Tanner obliged and Connor used the two bags as a kind of windbreaker as they settled down in the left corner of the car wreck. The man sat first as to take the colder ground and metal against himself before unclipping his vest and laying it against the bags next to them. Tanner elected to squeeze against Connor's chest for maximum warmth as the older of the two pulled a blanket from his ruck's sustainment pouch and layered it over the two of them.
Connor could feel Tanner shake less and less as well as an audible drop in his sniffling after a few otherwise quiet minutes. The ex-soldier snagged at his long-sleeve and brought it across the kid's face in an effort to wipe the snot off of it.
Connor let out an amused snort after this, "Jesus kid, I thought you were supposed to be almost thirteen."
The man's smile could've lit up the entire night could it have produced light. Tanner sunk himself deeper under the blanket in embarrassment with a grumble.
Things were silent minus the whistle of wind through the cars next to them and the crack of the occasional branch in the trees a few meters beyond. It was only five or so minutes more until Tanner fell asleep, but Connor was more than vigilant. He couldn't imagine sleeping at the moment-- not with how nauseous he had begun to feel already. He hoped the cold wouldn't make things worse and he'd get truly sick; he hoped the same for Tanner, of course. The boy was infinitely more important than him.
Then, from somewhere just off the road he heard the unmistakable sound of a human voice and a thud. It was just off the road and followed by a 'Shit'. Shit, indeed. Connor sank as low to the ground as possible as Tanner stirred with a sigh, "...what?"
Tanner's eyes widened in unrestrained panic for a moment-- that much Connor could tell even in the dark. The ex-soldier moved the boy to the side and threw his vest on with as much haste as he could manage while keeping quiet.
Without waiting for a response, Connor uncoiled from the blanket and made for the edge of the Woodline-- pistol drawn. The man dropped in wait behind a thick tree at the edge of the woods as his eyes scanned for anything out of place. The noise had been too long ago to use that as any accurate information. Yet, an orange speck rose from the ground in nearly the same spot he had imagined he heard the curse from moments earlier. Just beyond that orange speck he saw the rough outline of a nose and cheekbones cast in the faint embers of the cigarette.
Connor's breath caught in alarm. This was the first person besides Tanner he had seen in a few months, and now he had more than one reason to interact with them, finally. However, he couldn't throw caution to the wind just yet.
With less than ten meters between the two, Connor slung out beside the tree revealing as little as possible and levelled his pistol at the man just ahead of him. The metallic click of the safety being pressed off was likely enough to alert the man to another's presence, but this next part certainly was a give-away, "Don't move."
It was emotionless. A calm command given from someone who clearly thought they had the situation under control. An assertion that didn't land anywhere near a raised voice, but still managed more than a whisper.
Another waft of nippy air smacked the side of his head just as the sound of crushed brush and handgun's safety could have alerted him to the stranger's presence. It didn't. So when the enforcer was dusting himself off and heard the command from the treeline, he jumped a fraction. Internally cursing his quivering nerves. It was too damn dark and Freddie was never a fan of forests after twilight.
"Who's there?" He barked, ready to scold one of his friends for stupid jokes but the question baffled him. Wave of heat flushed his chest and his skin sizzled. Fingers itched for the grip of the rifle dangling from his shoulder. Instead he raised his hands a little in a sign of surrender.
"Easy now…" He squinted at the edge of the forest, trying to discern if the man was alone or more barrels poked from behind the trees.
"I'm just a guy on a walk, alright? I live nearby." He swallowed. "Freddie." Slowly, his hands began to lower.
"The hell you doing sneaking on people in the dark like that… You alone?"
Minnie stayed close to Nari as her eyes darted around the room. She wasn't exactly a fighter, a stealth expert, nor was she armed... she was feeling pretty helpless in that moment. She wanted to help, she didn't want North to win, she didn't want to report to the front of the building. Inside, they only had one person to fight: North. They had walls to protect them from the others outside... but if they left, they'd be exposed and surrounded. What if they gunned them down where they stood? Maybe she was just catastrophizing things... she prayed it was just her mind running wild.
She almost tripped over her own feet as Nari dragged her along, her mind preoccupied with making up scenarios they could face if they left the safety of the school. She checked Haewon was following them, glancing over her shoulder. As they stepped out into the hallway, she began plotting an escape route. There was a vent, she was small, she could crawl in there and disappear, but that would leave everyone else behind... and the front was still attached, North could grab her before she even had the chance to open it...
She looked up at Nari. Did she have a plan? Did Haewon or Pandora have a plan? Haewon had taught her in a situation where she had to defend herself to kick them in the crotch. She glanced at North. She wouldn't be quick enough to do that to him... and if she didn't kick hard enough, he'd take her out easy. Even if she somehow took him out with the help of the others, there'd be consequences when the rest of them got inside.
"What do we do..?" She whispered to Nari, holding on tightly to her sleeve. She didn't want to die... she finally had a family! A proper one! She had parents that cared about her, that kept her fed and healthy and loved. She had a grandpa! She'd never had a grandpa before... Where was Arthur, anyway?
Connor frowned a bit as the man desperately tried to regain some semblance of equal footing in the conversation. The ex-soldier's immediate thought was, 'Who the fuck goes on a walk like this through the woods-- alone?'
Nobody, but Connor wouldn't say that as it may hint to the fact he had Tanner in tow. As a matter of fact, the man's prodding as to whether he was alone, while understandable-- just made him more uneasy about the entire situation. He swayed and shifted with tense micromovements. The heat of nervous anticipation burned his cheeks into a scarlet flush given the correct lighting and the tightness in his muscles that pulled at his index finger itch made his trigger discipline a priority at the moment.
No. No, he didn't like this.
Then, the guy altogether began to lower his hands as though they had reached some common ground just by him talking into the woods? The situation was weird. This guy, Freddie, was way too comfortable being held at gunpoint by a stranger. Did he have others nearby? Is that why he's being so loud?
Normally, you keep quiet in case of infected, but then again this guy was smoking up in the dark so Connor couldn't tell if applying general safety precautions to this man was sound judgement on his part.
Connor sunk back into the shadow and shrub keeping his handgun levelled at Freddie as he slid a bit down the hill to his left and landed behind a new point of cover, a boulder just large enough to hide behind, to throw his counterpart off, "Alright, Freddie, I'm Connor-- let's get those hands back up. All I'm doing is making sure you aren't a threat. Are you alone? Where do you live?"
He was content to be the one asking questions for now.
Meanwhile, Tanner sat crumbled under the blanket with a hunting knife clutched firmly in hand. He tried to control his breathing and stay as quiet as possible, but Connor...
He was scared. Not because of the situation but because he didn't want the closest thing he had to a dad to disappear any sooner than he was supposed to. Tanner's face scrunched in worry and his hands began to shake in anxiety at the horror of reality. What we he do if Connor never came back up the hill?
He froze like someone being accused of a crime they didn't commit. Confronted by his worst fear, being without Connor, he desperately wanted to see him... just to be sure.
Tanner emerged from under the blanket and made his way to the guard rail in nothing more than his jeans, shirt, knife, and Metallica hoodie.
Tears stung at his eyes while Tanner whispered as loudly as he could down the hill toward the exchange of voices he heard.
Wesley watched as the two men suddenly surged toward the pistol, coming together in a hectic scramble. It was like witnessing two cats circle one another, yowling and hissing only to have a stimulus send them hurtling toward one another in a frantic ball of violence. Wes found himself urging the younger man on as he watched him get to the gun first. He hadn't wanted to give any indication to Kenny during his walkout earlier, but he'd had serious doubts about the young man's ability to overcome his adversary... physically and mentally.
But if he managed to get his hands on a weapon... that was a different story. The other man's physicality would be nullified and -- more to the point -- Kenny would probably find it easier to pull a trigger than to get his hands dirty by beating a man to death or tearing his throat out with his teeth or the ten thousand other gruesome ways people tended to meet their end inside The Pit. But his silent cheer routine was all for nought as Andrew managed to wrestle the weapon away, putting Kenny on the ground before launching into another monologue.
This asshole was persistent, Wesley would give him that.
But then his eyes flicked to the very Second-in-Command who had armed him, his speech seeming to reach a crescendo. Wesley, having lowered his own sidearm slightly upon the fight ensuing, immediately raised it again on instinct. Front sight focus, shoulders squared -- suddenly wishing he had a rifle instead of his pistol.
Beyond his sights he saw the hazy out-of-focus image of Andrew aiming the pistol, delivering what could only be his final words. At least, he hoped that's what they were for his sake. Because the enforcer was already taking the slack out of the trigger with the pad of his index finger... until the pistol barked in his hands and filled the makeshift coliseum with a crack like thunder.
None of this was a surprise to Weston: Kenny not managing to end this even if he got to the gun first, a bullet wasted, and a gun pointed at him. He knew the risks going into this. He'd probably get an earful later about recklessness and being an idiot and yadda yadda... so forth, and so on. But it was a calculated move - even if, admittedly, quite risky.
Andrew had just challenged the status quo twice. Once with his traitorous bullshit move, and once again by standing up against the way justice was doled out. Weston would readily admit to himself this was not a good system they had, but the important thing was there was a system. Period. He was not going to let someone buck that, nor would he let someone get away with challenging him. Right now, with King gone? He was top dog, and he was going to make sure everyone here was keenly aware of it.
Even if he hated all of this.
Weston caught sight of Wes raising his weapon on the other side of the cage. He wasn't the only enforcer to do so. In fact, Andrew was already as good as dead the second he raised iron against him. The idiot threw away a perfectly good chance at living. Weston didn't have any other guns on him, just a knife, but that's all he needed.
There were several gasps in the crowd as Wes' shot rang out, sounding thrice as loud in the enclosed space. The whole thing seemed to pass by in slow motion: Andrew taking his sweet time aiming at Weston, never actually taking the shot, and clearly not wanting to even as he was struck by Wes' shot. Andrew lurched to the side, red immediately starting to spread from his side just under his raised arm. Splatters of blood hit the ground first, followed in short order by the defeated older man. There was no exit wound, which was bad news.
Andrew had barely bounced against the floor once before Weston was unlocking the cage and entering it, pulling a knife from his its place at his side. He kicked his gun out of Andrew's hand, grabbing it up and giving it a glance. The safety was on again. It was doubtful that was an accident - the man had no intention of ever shooting him, apparently. Weston got a smug grin on his face with this realization.
Shoving the gun back into his holster, he approached Andrew and towered over him, digging into his own back pocket. He brought something special on this occasion - it was either going to be a reward, or a parting gift to bury the man with. Rolling Andrew over onto his back with the heel of his boot, Weston crouched down next to the dying man and held the item up: a wallet-sized picture, dog-eared and bent. Weston gave it only a passing glance first, to make sure it was right-side-up, as he held it in front of Andrew's eyes. As he did so, he knelt down and whispered something to Andrew, quiet enough that only the dying man could hear it.
Once he was done giving the man his parting words, Weston sat up straighter and raised his voice. "Something else to look at while you're dying. I figured I'd do you that much, even if you tried to fuck us over. We're not animals, you know." Weston commented to Andrew, though loud enough for the room to hear. He glanced up at Wes, motioning with his head and eyes toward Kenny. Hopefully the enforcer would get the hint to go scrape the shaken kid up off the floor. He kept his knife ready in his other hand, ready to take care of things when it was time.
Dutchess smirked as Cabrera sauntered through the gates like he owned the place. He did, technically King owned the school and its people now, but Cabrera was King by extension. She was no fool to think otherwise. She waited for Xander to call out his people before she slipped the safety back onto her pistol and tucked it in the back of her jeans once again.
She surveyed the other Samaritans as they milled in and covered the grounds keeping tabs on the people here. Some she recognized from the prison, others she didn’t and could only assume that they’d been recruited while she’d been gone. Dutchess didn’t feel the need to introduce herself; if she needed to know their names Cabrera would introduce them to her.
She glanced back to see Nari, the girls, and Pandora exiting the building and she leaned into Cabrera. “That’s one of their medics and their engineer - she’s the one who set up the whole fence system and everything else they’ve got going for them.” She paused and chuckled. “And she’s banging the boss here. They’ve been playing house. That reminds me - they’re two in there that won’t be coming out on their own. One’s in a coma, and the other’s their prisoner. He put the first guy in a coma.”
Cabrera frowned, silent for a time before grunting his answer. “Bring out the prisoner.”
Dutchess hated the idea of going back in and having to deal with Kurt herself. As much as Kurt didn’t know who she was, she was very aware of who he was prior to the world falling apart and came from something she didn’t want to deal with again. Thinking for a moment, she took Font’s radio and brought it to her lips.
North followed Buster as he slowly meandered his way to the doorway, clearly making a point of taking his time. He was tempted to shove the cripple forward just to move him faster but he could sense violence in the man. As much as North welcomed the opportunity to fight, he’d been itching for a brawl for some time, and he knew better than to be the one to perpetuate the conflict.
He paused as his radio cracked and he heard Dutchess calling for him. He sneered and brought the radio up. “What now? Did the girls not make it outside?”
“They’re here, boss man wants you to go get the prisoner, bring him out for the meet and greet.”
North cussed but didn’t answer, heading down the hall towards the school’s gym to do as he was bid. “Like some fucking errand boy…”
Nari glanced back down the hall where they’d come from briefly; Buster wasn’t right behind them and she wondered, momentarily, if he was tying up North’s attention span to give them the opportunity to flee, to find somewhere to hide in the school. But for how long? The people at the gates weren’t going to just go away and how much worse would it be if they disobeyed and were found later?
Her decision was made for her when she spotted Buster shambling out of the administrative office with North behind. Opportunity lost. She led the girls and Pandora to the main doors, squinting as she stepped out into the light. She felt her heart sink as she saw the sheer number of vehicles and people standing outside of their gates.
Nari stepped aside from the doors as more of their people exited, clearly, she hadn’t heard them being called out of the building with them. She tugged Minnie closer, leaning down so she could speak to only the girls quietly. “Stay calm and quiet.” She glanced towards Font standing near Dutchess and who she presumed to be the leader of this group of invaders. “Stay near me or your sister and … don’t hesitate if we tell you to run.” She lifted Minnie’s chin to look at her directly, keeping her tone low and serious. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep you and your sister safe but if Xander or myself tell you to run you do it, you don’t look back and you keep yourself safe.”
Jamie all but shoulder-checked the roof access door, stumbling out into blessed daylight. He stayed in place just long enough to watch everyone rush up the stairwell and outside, taking the momentary break to massage his bad leg. The knee and joints were aching like they always did from a run up the stairs.
The Bell 214 painted with a red and white air ambulance livery sat center stage on the decrepit helipad on the roof. Small Flecks of rust and scratched paint were peeling off the helicopter from where James hadn't yet gotten around to cleaning and repainting. Just across from the helipad, near the edge of the roof, was a sunchair, umbrella stand, table, and portable cooler. The night guard had set up small accommodations for King so he wouldn't get bored and consequently pissed off while he waited for Jamie to put the finishing touches on the helicopter. It was a reminder that Jamie had planned to take hours checking, double-checking, and triple-checking anything and everything on the helicopter before taking off, not fifteen or so minutes before the horde downstairs broke down the roof access door.
Jamie rushed to climb up the helipad, just catching the tail end of a confrontation between Denise and Rocky. He wasn't paying enough attention to tell what they were talking about, but whatever it was it wasn't his business.
Unfolding a step ladder from where it laid underneath the tail, Jamie readjusted the duffel bag of spare parts and tools on his back before pulling himself on top of the tail, wrapping his legs across the steel like a saddle. The hydraulics and slide valve of the tail servo control were the most pressing issues. If the hydraulics screwed up or the slide valve got stuck, the helicopter would spin out of control if he tried and everyone on board would probably die. In aviation, 'probably' wasn't that bad. At least in comparison to losing the jesus nut, and yes, that's the technical term. The jesus nut was the only nut holding the main rotor to the helicopter, and if it failed, would cause the blades to fly off the helicopter. At that point, all you could do was pray. Not for survival, there's no chance of that, but for mercy from the big man upstairs.
Jamie was somewhere around sixty percent sure the jesus nut wouldn't fail, and he wanted to make that at least sixty-five percent before taking off today but he wasn't sure he'd have the time. He thought it was a good idea to keep the statistics to himself.
Jamie had already removed the steel covering of the tail to reach the servo control when he noticed a distinct lack of Rocky. Car work may not have equated to aeronautical engineering, but at the very least Rocky could make sense of the engines. What was the hold up? Jamie hadn't tuned in to the group conversation since they got on the roof, and frankly he didn't care. All he knew was that they weren't hauling nearly as much ass as he would like.
"Rocky!" Jamie called from on top of the tail, not looking up as he began to remove the servo control to get easier access into its inner workings, "Get up here, I need you to check the engine and clear the exhaust!"
It was damn hot on the long expanse of a clear highway in Virginia when Samuel Greenlaw came across the military Jeep. Sam thought the haze of the hot July weather was fucking with his vision as it came into view. But it was there just the same. Though, it looked rather lopsided sitting at the side of the road. The first thing that entered Sam’s mind when he saw it was food, clothes, and resources. Sam was obsessed with resources, particularly food. All he ever thought about was food despite weighing all one hundred and thirty pounds and standing over six foot three. He was a walking skeleton. He fit the décor of the time. His heart pounded as he walked a little faster toward the vehicle. It was the first thing he had seen in a long time. He had a deep-seated desire that, maybe, they would have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Oh, how he craved one of those.
Sam did not like remembering what life was like before the so-called apocalypse. For him, the world’s end was among the best things to happen save Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Sam loved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He only got them on his birthday. And only if the nurses remembered. They were always nice to him, but when they gave him a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, well, Sam liked that. And then the end of the world happened. For Sam, it happened while he was asleep. He slept through the whole damn thing. Screaming never did bother him. In an asylum for the supposedly insane, screaming was as common as hearing the furnace kick in or the airconditioner whirl to life. Sam slept through the whole thing. And there was no clear or present danger when he noticed something was wrong. The dead had moved on and left him in his little isolation room. The nurses always left him in his isolation room, except when they gave him a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Those were good days!
Sam did not recall how long he sat inside the little room. It took a damn long time for the power to fail and the electronic security system to disengage, letting him out. He was skin and bones when he finally got out. Par for the course. But he never complained about starving. He knew he could outlast anyone. And then, he could get what he wanted. Food was always there. One just had to be creative. The halls were dark and barely navigatable, given the number of bodies. None of it bothered Sam. Again, it was par for the course. Dead bodies and decaying flesh inside a mental asylum were normal even in a non-apocalyptic world. But even so, Sam had to hurl a few times at the stench. It wasn’t good. But getting out was easy, after rummaging and finding all the good shit that he could carry. He only didn’t carry the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups he found. No. He ate those. They were melted in the stifling heat of the dead asylum. But they tasted amazing. Sam threw everything up. But damn, did they taste good.
When Sam got closer to the military Jeep at the side of the road, he grimaced. There were people. Two tall people and a short person. Sam groaned. They did not move like the dead, which meant they were alive. And that pissed Sam off. The dead ate the living. But the living was eating HIS food. The dead could eat the living for all Sam cared. The more of the living they ate, the better. The world was a better place now that it had ended. Sam’s dream of a humanless world had come true. But not fast enough. And there was still work to do. Starting with the stupid little family beside the military Jeep. Sam approached slowly, keeping his appearance looking soft and casual. He had an unsettling ability to look non-threatening. And in ways, he was. He was skin and bones. And he looked like death. But as for threatening, well, Sam was not that.
Seeing Sam approach, a man pointed his gun at Sam and screamed, “STOP RIGHT THERE!” The man appeared to be in uniform, army most likely. Sam was never sure. Still, Sam did as commanded and waited for instructions. A lifetime of living in an asylum gave him ample opportunity to learn how to obey arbitrary orders from women and men who went to some medical college to administer treatments that a robot could just as easily do. Yes, medicine to Sam was just an algorithm. Anyone could do it. That’s why they hired the low of the low. The military man was no different from Sam other than they gave him a gun. Stupid people with guns were the bane of Sam’s existence. They tended to use them. And never on the right people. “DROP YOUR BACKPACK, NOW!” The military man was shouting still, and Sam did as he was bidden. Then, he watched as the man approached and stuck the gun in Sam’s face causing Sam’s eye to twitch. He could act when he needed to. And this appeared to be a damn good time.
Military man: “Who the fuck are you?”
Military man: “And where the fuck are you going?”
Military man: “And why is that?”
Sam: “Cause it’s safe. No one lives there.”
Military man: “Where you come from?”
Military man: “Fine. Okay then. I got a proposition for you, Sam. You leave your backpack here, come on over and help with this Jeep for a second, and we’ll let you go.”
Sam: “Sounds good.”
Sam had no desire to argue. He left his backpack in the middle of the highway, walked forward with the man, and found their way to the Jeep. There, Sam found he was correct that there were two more people. Plus, apparently, another one inside. In total, Sam found a military man, a woman, who was his wife, their little son, and their even littler daughter inside a carriage inside the Jeep. The woman seemed more reasonable than her meathead husband and introduced the lot. Sam never forgot a name. Her name was Anna Nichols. The husband’s name was Billy. Their boy’s name was Carter, and their little infant girl’s name was Olivia. They were headed from Washington and headed west, hoping for something good. Then, they had a little trouble with the Jeep and decided to change a tire when the whole Jeep fell off the jack. The solution was simple, get the Jeep up just enough to get the jack back and fix the problem. Simple.
Although he never looked like a figure of strength, Sam was surprisingly helpful. Though, it might have been Billy that did most of the work. Regardless, all worked out for those who were patient. And soon, the Jeep was back on the jack, and the wheel was being put back on. Sam stood back, watched as Anna approached, and started grilling Sam about everything one could imagine. His name, family, social security number, and mother’s maiden name. All the pedigree stuff plus the typical thing about what life was like in the apocalypse. Sam lied through his teeth about everything save his name. He believed people were at least entitled to know that. And then, through a smile, Anna attempted to relay her story. They were a nice little family with nice dreams and ambitions until everything went to hell. Now, they were on their way across America, looking for safety. Sam listened as if she were speaking God’s will. Inside, he wished her husband would put the gun in her mouth, pull the trigger, and make her shut the fuck up. No such luck.
Then, Carter approached his mother, Anna, and asked for water. Anna smiled at Sam and asked him if he would like to accompany her to a little irrigation canal nearby with fresh water. Sam nodded. He was not thirsty, but he had an idea. He loved it when he had ideas. “Let me help you at least; better I fall in than you guys.” Anna agreed, handed Sam the few water containers they had, and slowly wandered to the canal. There, Sam quickly filled the containers with water, took a quick sip to prove he was thirsty, and then sealed the containers giving them back to Anna and Carter. The two took massive sips and maneuvered back to the Jeep.
There, Anna gave her husband some water, and Billy glared at Sam, nodded, and said in a somewhat chipper tone, “Thanks, Sam. For that, let me give you this.” Sam smiled and watched as Billy handed Sam a large bowie knife. Sam smiled as he looked at the inscription engraved on the blade. Sam read it and did not understand the meaning. However, Billy promptly explained that it belonged to a comrade of his, who unfortunately died on their way from Washington. Sam lied through his teeth again and said he would treasure it always. He wouldn’t. But that did not matter. And then, the family hopped into the Jeep and sped off down the highway. Sam looked on with a smile as the Jeep faded into the hazy July afternoon, leaving Sam alone. He cleared his throat and thought that they were a nice family.
After Sam had collected his backpack and resumed his journey, he came across the Jeep just as he thought he would. It sat idling in the ditch a few miles down the road where it had left him. In the driver’s seat, Billy’s head lay on his shoulder, mouth open, and eyes staring off into nothing. Foam fell from his mouth and dripped onto his shoulder and down the seatbelt. Anna’s appearance looked likewise, except her hands were around her throat. In between the two, Carter had his arms around his mother’s waist. His head was in her lap, which was covered in vomit. Sam sighed. It was a mess. But it was a good mess. His idea had worked. The little canteens he filled with water were likewise filled with enough poisoned pills to kill a healthy horse. And so it worked. The little family from Washington was dead, and Sam had a new Jeep.
Taking the bodies from the Jeep was no small task, but Sam managed quickly enough. Eventually, the Jeep was liberated from its former occupants and welcomed its new owner with a hum. Shifting into first, Sam started moving the Jeep back to the highway and up the road. And that’s when he finally heard it. A little noise and cry. He cursed that he lived in a perpetual hell of an asylum where it was normal to hear screaming all day. The screaming he heard in the Jeep was not a patient’s screaming for whatever fictional thing was happening in their head, but that of a baby’s cries. Sam looked in the rearview mirror and spotted the last of the Nichols family. Little Olivia was screaming in the back, looking around and wondering what was happening. Her infant’s brain had no way of knowing the hell she was in or was about to be put into.
Sam sighed and slowly brought the Jeep to a halt. He exited the vehicle and maneuvered into the back seat to remove Olivia’s little car seat with her still inside. She had the shambolic remnants of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in her hand. Sam’s eyes went wide. He smiled as Olivia screamed. He found a treasure. And then, he left her. He put her down on the side of the highway, leaving Virginia going west. The little car seat’s last shade shielding faded as Sam drove the Jeep away, leaving it behind for the sun to scorch. The last thing that Sam saw in the rearview mirror was the family again. They were all standing. Or, hunched. Like everyone, they came back. And they found their daughter and sister. Sam looked away. Even he did not want to watch as the recently deceased ate one of their own. He wasn’t interested in that. He had a Jeep. He had sufficient resources to last him for quite a long time. He had the remnants of Olivia’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Bringing it to his lips, he bit down on the chocolate and peanut butter and smiled. It was a good day.
Sam was a night person. While everyone else slept, he worked and did what he could to scrounge for everything Lincoln could need or wanted. He was a scavenger. He adored finding things, especially when they were not his. The Nichols were not his last victims, and he hoped there would be more. While Sam had no respect for the living, he deeply admired that they had stuff. They had food. They had things! They had nice things. They could die, and he would have their things to give to those inside the prison. And then, hopefully, one day, all those people in prison would die. They would die, die, or eat one another and be even deader. And then, Sam would have it all. All the things he collected for them would be his. While they seemed desirous of cigarettes, sex, booze, and each other, Sam wanted their things. All of their things. The problem was that they were alive. But not for long. Everyone died eventually. Except for Sam. Sam lingered. So, he carried on collecting and gathering anything people requested. He always found it. He would find the holy grail if they wanted him to find it. Then, he’d watch as they held it envisioning the day that he could piss into it and dribble his rancid urine into their faces as he poured the contents into their dead limp bodies. Everyone in prison was like a banker. They were holding onto Sam’s things for now.
Yet scavenging was usually a daily activity. And Sam gave up the sleep he needed to do such tasks. But at night, he thrived. And there, he performed sentry duty, despite not being a sentry. But who the hell wanted to wander around in the dark anyways? Few people seemed to, so Sam took their shifts. Sam was good like that. He was a good guy, that Sam. Or, that’s how he was known. He did as he was told and didn’t eat his rations of food save the odd chocolate bar. He never smoked. He never drank. He didn’t fuck because that would involve using precious condoms. Going raw would risk disease, necessitating medications Sam refused to take. Oh no. He’d learned years ago never to take medications. Medications were for sick people. And Sam was not sick. Thus, Sam’s allotment was easily given to someone else. If someone wanted his cigarettes, they could have them. If someone wanted his booze, they could have them. But in the back of his mind, he wished for the day that he could see them all die in a fire caused by their cigarettes or drown in their vomit from all the booze. That would be justice for taking his stuff. Thieves. They were all thieves.
Sam wandered out on patrol late in the evening. He could not sleep, so he decided to go out to get a few more brownie points. It was easy enough to do. The walk always did him good. Sometimes he found things he liked. Not normally, but sometimes. When Freddie, the boss, declared that the group of people should spread out, Sam wandered away like he always did, alone. He hated being around people more than he needed to be. He never gave off the impression that he hated people, but deep down, he did. He hated them all. He wished he had enough poison to watch them drown in their vomit. But thus far, he had not found a factory that made poison. Rotten luck. Still, there was always time. He wandered through the darkness, trying his best not to think of things. Thinking always led his mind back to his cell, solitary. Being in a real-life prison was somewhat of a de ja vu situation. However, Sam contained his emotions. Besides, he never recalled much of his life in the asylum save his room. His room had four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. It had a bed, a chair he was not allowed to sit on, and a dresser he could not open. He obeyed religiously. He sat on the floor most of the day, counting the tiles. There were 500 of them. Sam always found it weird that it was such an even number. Yet he named every one of them. Thus, he remembered everyone he had ever met’s name. They all were named after a tile. That made it easy to remember.
Stepping forward into the night, Sam tried to lose himself in thinking of something other than his cell. That was depressing. But nothing happy came to mind. Until he heard a noise or some form of rustling. A man emerged from under something and promptly went for the tree line. Sam stood motionless, watching. He blinked as if he were watching a movie. The behavior of man was indeed confusing. Then, Sam heard voices. Specifically, he heard Freddie. Freddie, the big oaf. To Sam, Freddie was as loud as he was stupid. Even Sam could hear it, and he lived in an asylum for ages. Yet he stood perfectly still. He hoped they would kill one another. He hoped they would pull triggers simultaneously, killing one another and ending their pathetic lives so that Sam could take their stuff. Sam did not know if the new person had stuff, but Freddie had stuff. Oh, Freddie had stuff. And Sam wanted it.
Then, Sam saw more rustling. A smaller figure, possibly a child, emerged from where the other person had been. Then, he seemed to move forward in the direction of the noises. Sam sighed as he heard the child speak too. A name, Connor, was spoken. Sam sighed and thought. Tile 243. Connor. It was in a corner nearest to the door of his cell. Sam wondered what the child’s name was. Maybe he had a tile. Quietly as a mouse, Sam stepped forward, letting the sounds of the evening mask his steps. He’d learned to be silent. He’d learned to be silent long ago. It was eerie. And then, he pulled the bowie knife he’d been given by the nice little family he met along the highway some time ago from his belt and held it lightly in his hand.
Approaching the youth from behind, Sam looked to see the figure had a knife, but it was just a knife. There did not appear to be a gun. Sam was not afraid of knives. He was not afraid of guns either. Guns were just more of a threat. Further, the youth seemed quite nervous. Sam could never understand such behavior. What was there to be afraid of? Sam leveled the knife at the youth’s neck. Sam was not quick; he was just silent. He did not want to discourage the youth from screaming. Rather, he wanted it to happen. The blade touched flesh, but Sam did not press hard. Instead, Sam placed his free hand around the youth’s wrist and whispered, “If you want to see Connor again, let go of the knife and call for him again. But louder. I do not think he heard you.” Sam let his knife slide a little, grazing the tender flesh of the youth’s neck. He would not be the first kid Sam heard scream to death. And Sam prayed he would not be the last.
Prickle of cold sweat on his back made him shiver as another gust of air sneaked under his collar. Freddie could barely make out the human shape in the dark, internally cursing when the man drew back, hiding in the shadow and trees.
"That's the thing, pal. I'm not." He reluctantly put one hand up, sluggishly raising the other to pull the cap off his head and rub his hairdo with his wrist. "If someone sees you aiming at me like that they ain't gonna ask questions, you see. We're like a big family here and you're just trespassing so..." The enforcer put the cap back on.
"How about you put that thing away and we talk without the barrel between us."
Connor was taking a long time to respond. What if something happened? His breathing came in uneven heaves that suddenly caught as he felt a blade glance the back of his neck— the cold brush of steel as though the weapon contained the tormented soul of many others who had met their end hanging from the blade caused his stand to stand on end.
He felt like a big boy. Tanner was a big boy. Connor told him needed to be, so he was. BigboybigboybigboybigboyBigboybigboybigboybigboy.
Tanner didn’t feel like a big boy.
He was snatched by his wrists and turned his head to gaze upward at the towering skeleton of a man before him. Tanner nearly wet himself, but something caused him to stop all bodily process as though it injected death straights into his veins and into his brain. Something… something was off about the man. Call it a child’s ability to detect evil, but staring into the man’s eyes he saw something twisted and demented fluttering like ash behind the whites inside. It looked like how Connor looked when… when he killed someone, but Connor turned it off afterward. The way this man seemed calm yet violent sent Tanner’s head spinning in terror.
His heart was tearing itself apart beneath the claws of the skeleton’s fear and the final shift of the blade sent the child screaming over the edge of his sanity, “CONNNNNNNOR!”
The shout resounded through the tree line and bounced along tree after tree carrying its terror-filled message.
Connor had been chewing on what the man said. ‘A big family and you’re just trespassing.’
That told him everything he needed to know about this place. The wording was off, the vibes were off, and the whole thing stunk to hell of just another totalitarian shithole that sprouted up in the ruins of society and was waiting to tear itself apart. Fuck. This had been a colossal waste of time, and if he was wrong then damn this man for being the world’s worst spokesman.
“I think we’re done here. I’m gonna let you on your way and we’re gonna be gone before you even—“
The man’s soul was snatched from his body as he went pale as a ghost.
No. No. Nonononononononononononono.
The man flipped around to rush to the boy’s aid but was assaulted by the reality that if he left the other man alive then he would run the risk of being surrounded.
Connor froze. His morality was caught between executing the man before him to makes things easier, or trying the humanitarian approach. The ex-soldier very sincerely doubted that putting down one of their number would ingratiate him to whatever group occupied this area and by extension make getting Tanner away from whatever he had just encountered harder. Yet, could he risk it? Fuck. No more time to deliberate.
Connor threw himself at the hill as though he were a addict that knew his next fix were just at the top of the crest and hoped that Freddie wouldn’t be able to put one into his plate in this darkness from that distance.
Cresting the top, he saw the one thing he feared in this whole situation: Tanner had been caught by one of the others that Freddie had spoken about.
“H-hey,” Connor hesitated, “let the kid go. Please…”
The ex-soldier threw his hands up and let the pistol hang limp in his right hand only supported by his index finger through the trigger guard.
Freddie froze at the piercing cry for help, his heart racing. It sounded like a kid. A damn kid for goodness sake.
The enforcer watched the man hesitate before darting up the hill. Once that muzzle was no longer pointing in Freddie's direction, he drew his own pistol. Squeezing a walkie talkie in free hand he pressed the device to his moustache-framed lips and rasped out in a loud whisper.
"What the hell is going on out there? I got a man running toward the screams." He clipped it back to his belt and ignoring the previous plan he turned on his flashlight. Following the beam of light the man began climbing towards the scene, feeling his nerves flutter in his stomach.
Sam blinked in rapid succession hearing the scream of the child in his arms. The scream the kid elicited was enough to make even Sam feel slight hesitation to do more. There would have been nothing grander than to listen to his scream echo into a gurgle as the knife slit across the kid’s throat. But Sam could not kill so blatantly in the open. That only happened when no one else was around. Besides, a cut to the neck would not be clean. It would be efficient, and efficiency was good, but it would not be clean. The kid had clothes. Clothes that were now Sam’s despite still clinging to the kid’s form. Sam had already taken inventory of what he wanted. Yes, the kid’s clothing was now part of Sam’s mental registry. Slitting his throat would only damage the goods. Goods that were not being manufactured anymore. No. The kid needed to die in less gruesome ways that being cut.
Sam began to think how he could best kill the kid. Suffocation was easiest. It was cleanest. But it was not efficient. It took time and strength. Plus, the screaming. Though, to have a pillow would help. And then there would only be a few muffled screams as the kid’s life would flow from his body. Sam supposed that was the best option. But for now, the kid was leverage. It was amazing what people did for kids. Sam suspected that this ‘Connor’ was this kid’s caretaker. Perhaps they were brothers. That seemed to make a lot of sense to Sam. The simple notion of a brother doing what he could to save his little sibling made Sam sick. In a world gone to hell, what good was a sibling? Just another mouth to feed. Another reason to get ambushed. Though, one bullet to the leg and he would be decent food for the walking dead. Though, the clothes would be lost. Again, Sam had his priorities.
Sam squeezed the kid’s wrist hard and felt his lip twitch. The kid did not drop the knife-like Sam asked. In his mind, Sam thought he was being quite polite. But the kid disobeyed, and Sam made a mental note that the kid needed to be punished for such sins as not listening to his elders. Sam leaned into the kid’s ear and whispered again and said, “The next few seconds will dictate the rest of your life. Drop the knife, or I will drop your little head from your shoulders, watch the blood gush up, and then kick your head down the hill and score a goal.” His tone was flat. It was calm as could be. It was as if he were reading out the instructions on a cake recipe. They were just words. But he meant every one of them. The kid’s head would look much better rolling down the hill. At least then, Sam knew that the body would lose the will to hold onto the knife. Frankly, it would have much worse things to worry about.
Sam watched with anticipation as the one called Connor arrived. In the darkness, Sam could see the man was built like a brick shit house. He had muscle. He had power. He had strength. But most importantly, he had a gun. Sam saw it hang limply in the man called Connor’s hand. Sam smiled a little grin barely visible in the darkness and shook his head. Connor was polite. That much was true. But the kid had nullified such mannerisms to pacify Sam. If he had just dropped the knife, perhaps Sam would have been a little kinder. But he was not. Though, Sam tended towards being unkind.
“I am afraid I cannot do that. The kid has a knife, you see. And so, do I. I asked him nicely to drop it, but he refused. You have a gun, I see. Why do not you drop it and set a good example for the kid. Then, I will put my knife away and we can all introduce ourselves. How does that sound, Connor?” Sam’s voice sounded less flat and more excited. Brushing the veil of danger and death was somewhat thrilling and each time Sam encountered the possibility of death, he got excited. There were those who got excited seeing a beautiful woman get on her knees. There were those who got excited being flung into the strong hands of a muscular man. But for Sam, his life thrill was to see people fight, die, and ultimately succumb to the warm embrace of silence. Yes. The kid could die. The man named Connor could die. Oh, and if only Freddie was to arrive, and they all could die. Then, Sam could be alone with them, in silence. And he would be happy. Sam smiled and turned his face to the kid and breathed down his neck. The kid smelled. But that did not bother Sam. Because he smelled of fear. And fear was akin to ambrosia for the likes of Sam.
Wesley watched Andrew go down in a heap, keeping his gun trained on him all the while... but it soon became clear that the man was done as red pooled rapidly beneath him. Ears ringing, he saw Weston entering the cage and moved to follow suit from the other side as a knife flashed menacingly in the Second's hand. But he didn't gut the prisoner like he half-expected. Instead, he calmly retrieved his gun and spoke to the man: something to soft for Emmett to hear. Wes had no care to hear it in any case -- that was between the two of them. Few people got to settle their business in this world.
As the Second nodded toward Kenny, the enforcer returned the gesture before striding forward, hefting the young man to his feet by the collar. "C'mon, kid." He looked pale-faced, probably in shock. "Let's get you back to your room." He wasn't sure how this outcome -- such as it was -- would be looked upon by those who had sentenced Kenny to his fate in the first place. He hadn't beaten Andrew... but he was the last man standing and maybe that meant something. Thinking about it caused a pain to well up behind his temple as he pushed Kenny out of the arena by the shoulder, not bothering to cuff him.
After guiding the dubious victor back to his cell to recuperate, Wesley paused before grasping his walkie and keying the transmit button. "Freddie. You copy?" there was no response, but that wasn't surprising. The man was patrolling well outside the prison walls tonight, after all. Wes headed to the communications room where an operator was sitting behind the UHF base station and its antennae. "Anything from the patrol?" he asked.
The operator frowned. "I got something a second ago, just bits and pieces. I was about to call you. Sounded like Freddie."
Wes reached out for the speaker mic attached to the transceiver, holding the button as he lifted it to his lips. "Come in, Freddie. Status report."
Tanner shuddered under Sam with such force at the breath falling like poison across his back that the spasms sent the kids neck grazing the blade enough to draw a few growing pricks of blood that streaked down onto his Metallica hoodie. However, not even this new pain or the fact he was hostage was enough to shake him.
Altogether, Tanner stopped shaking. His heavy breathing drew back into a more controlled pace and his eyes locked onto Connor’s with such reverent and trusting gazes that it seemed as though the child would die willingly as to not further inconvenience his surrogate father’s mission here. Even the man’s threats to use his head like a soccer ball no longer held sway over the child as the man’s presence seemed all-assuring. Tanner’s idol had arrived— his god.
Connor stirred at the man’s assertions and was inclined to agree to his demands. The man maintained the eye contact the kid had established with him and began to fall to a knee to deliver his forearm to the ground. Up until this point, the ex-soldier maintained a knowing air of submission to the skeletal figure across from him, but as the blade drew blood from Tanner’s neck his face exploded into such an unbridled rage that it threatened to tear free the skin from his bones sending a skeletal wraith to drag the man’s soul to hell. Red hot with anger, Connor let the pistol clattered to the ground but he made no move to unload it. Rising to his feet he barked, “Drop it, Tanner.”
Without pause, the child followed his command. Tanner would turn around allowing the blade to slit his jugular, use the last of his waning strength to hold the skeleton still, and then allow Connor to beat and break this man if only his caretaker asked him. As far as Tanner was concerned, Connor could defeat this man with a punch, send him flying over the treetops, and falling back to the Earth some miles from here if only he tried! In Tanner’s mind, Connor could do anything!
Connor was ready to tear the entrails from this new man’s stomach and parade them, but the hostage and the beaming light approaching from the hillside brought him paused. His neck thick with muscled cords Connor fought to maintain a pleasant edge to his voice, “Alright, now that we’ve done that it’s time for your part of the bargain. I’m Connor, that’s Tanner, and you are, sir?”
A wave of pleasure soared through Sam’s body as he felt the kid shudder. To cause fear and pain was something Sam enjoyed. Though, he took no longstanding pleasure in any sort of pain or sadism. He enjoyed it, just not for long. All he craved was silence. The low moans of a life ending made Sam think of sleep and the peace of being able to think that all was right with the world. But the situation did not look as if it were escalating. Rather, it looked like it was diffusing. Sam was somewhat disappointed. He wished Connor were a little stupid. Maybe then Sam could use the kid as a shield and watch Connor fill the kid with little bullet holes. That would make the evening. Though, it would be a waste of bullets and would ruin the kid’s clothes. Further, the more Sam thought, the more he imagined that the kid might be a good addition to his personal collection of favorite things.
Sam’s favorite things: A Guide - Anything remotely close to something that might provide Sam satisfaction, new possessions, or food stuffs. The kid was just that, a kid. Impressionable was the word that came to mind. Kids could be tortured into submission and forced to do anything for the promise of life. Sam could keep him, and starve him, and make him do his bidding. They did it to Sam in the hospital during so called normal times. Why was it so inhuman to do it after the world ended? Yet breaking in someone to be a slave was never fun and was wholly time consuming. Thus, Sam supposed his original idea was still best of all. Strip the kid, gut him, and feed him to the walking dead. They needed to eat too! And what was better than fresh meat so tender and mild.
Sam looked on and watched the kid drop the blade after being told what to do. It seemed that the kid was already slave to the man called Connor. Sam considered that it might be more satisfying to see Connor die and then watch the kid die. It was always a matter of order. Sometimes it was nice to hear the escalation of screams. If the kid died first, would Connor scream? Sam supposed not. However, if Connor died, then maybe the kid would scream. Then, Sam would smile. Still, screaming meant noise and noise attracted all sorts of bad things so Sam supposed that it would be best if they both died at the same time. In their beds, without clothes, with everything in a nice pile for Sam to collect. It was better that way. Then they could be together. Forever.
To Sam, Connor’s voice sounded like razor blades flowing across his wrists. It was grating. But it was manageable for the time being. Sam wished to silence the man. He did not like conversations. He hated them. Why people could not keep quiet was beyond him. Still, he did invite a round of introductions. Still, Sam regretted even offering it. But being normal was apparently something that people still had to do, despite nothing at all being normal. And so, loosening his hand from the kid Tanner’s wrist, Sam moved his other hand with the knife and slid it back into its sheath. Then, moving his hand back to hold onto Tanner’s chest like he was giving the boy a hug, Sam said to Connor, “I am Sam. Why don’t we all sit nice and quiet like until my friend arrives? Or have you done something bad, Connor? Did you… do… something bad… to my friend… Connor?”
Sam’s lip quivered as if he gave a shit about Freddie’s life. He did not. But he was also having a minor relapse into his life inside his cell. Bad people were punished. Bad people got shocked. But Sam was not a bad guy. No. He never got shocked. Only once. Just once. But never again. And he never would ever again if he could help it. But as Sam stared at Connor, he wondered, was Connor a bad guy? Did he deserve to be shocked? Yes. He deserved to be shocked until his body started on fire. He was bad, Sam could tell. Connor was a bad, bad, bad guy. And Sam wanted desperately for Freddie to be dead so that Sam could justify killing Connor. Then, Sam would be the hero. He would have saved Tanner from the bad man Connor. And Sam would get a reward. Everyone would give all the stuff that he gave them back. And Sam would be happy. And then he could kill Tanner. He could strangle him. That would help Sam to sleep. A good workout of crushing a teenage boy’s throat would do that. Yes. Just a little workout.
Hummingbird. Staring up at the flimsy ceiling tiles from the cool tile floor below, Kurt found himself doing something he'd done over twenty years ago. Find shapes among the random dotted patterns of said tiles, which he'd often done when in Highschool. Miyu handed him books and assorted entertainment through the makeshift hole in the door, with the permission of the powers to be here at Northview High of course. But those only lasted so long, and Kurt's eyes aren't what they once were. After reading for a while he'd have to take a break, the words going blurry on the page, or risk a headache. And the Rubik's Cube? Well, he'd been utterly defeated by that thing weeks ago. Still, when Miyu asked about it he'd tell the girl he was getting closer. No since in worrying her with the truth that he was bored out of his mind, not that boredom in a cell was anything new for Kurt. Five years he'd spent in his last one, and he was only weeks..no, months? Well, shit. He'd lost track of the days at some point, who knew.
Hurried footsteps alongside hushed voices passing by the door drew Kurt's attention. Causing the man to sit up with a light grunt, his back regretting the fact that he'd laid on the floor so long. Stepping over to the door he peered out of the hole that was used to pass him food and items, as well as give eyesight on him from the opposite side of the door. The man caught the glimpses of a few people rounding a corner down the hallway, in a hurry, then somebody else walking at a quicker pace past the door, not the typical patrol. His radio crackled and a voice came from through, a voice he'd grown accustomed to given the amount of time this man spent interrogating him. "Sentries, lay down your weapons. Everyone, stay calm and report to the front of the building." Kurt frowned as he tried to work out what it meant, nothing good was clear. Was the school under siege or was something else happening? Was Miyu safe? The man passing by had his hand resting on his sidearm, looking rather conflicted at the words he'd heard. Kurt knocked on the door, "Hey, let me out. I can help!" He called out, but only succeeded in getting a snort in return before the man headed towards the front of the building. "Worth a shot." Kurt mumbled, stepping back some and standing up straight. But now his concern was only growing, so he did the one thing he could do. Kurt started pacing around the bathroom, listening intently for someone to pass by the door or anything else he could hear.
Time went by, just minutes probably, but eventually he started hearing footfalls that weren't his own and Kurt paused his pacing. The clatter of keys clicked into the doors lock, followed by a click. The door opened and Kurt recognized the other man as someone who'd been put on patrol occasionally checking on the prisoner, or bringing Kurt his food. Still, Kurt didn't know his name. Not that he knew many names of Northview's inhabitants, but he'd picked up a few here and there from hearing conversation outside the door or having them give him their names back in the beginning of his imprisonment. "Care to fill me in on what's going on?" Kurt asked, approaching the doorway after the man made no notion of what he wanted from Kurt. "Maybe I can help with--" He was cut off, the wind knocked out of him by a jab to the ribs. Dropping to his knees, one hand instinctively going to where he'd been hit. Kurt looked up, half expecting a follow-up to his face but only saw the man watching him with a smirk.
"Yeah, you can help. By getting your ass out of there and marching." North stepped out of the doorway, waving a hand for the prisoner to move it along. After a moment of gathering himself, Kurt stood up and did so. The halls were mostly empty but he saw a few people at the far end, looking to be exiting the same way the two of them were going. Briefly he couldn't help but wonder if this was his execution, though it seemed less likely all things considered. It wasn't until they exited to the outside that Kurt started getting a better idea of what was happening. He'd had to throw up a hand to block the sun from his eyes, spending much more time inside the dimly lit cell, than the bright outdoors these days meant his eyes needed a little more time adjusting to the sun. At the momentary slowing of his pace, he got a little shove from North behind him telling the man to keep moving. People were standing out in the courtyard, and there was a clear line of people near the gate that he didn't recognize in the least. Not to mention Northview's valiant little leader looking both frustrated and defeated amongst them. Still, Kurt saw no sign of Miyu and he couldn't decide if it was a good sign or a bad one.
Drowning in the pure, white panic, Rocky watched the woman draw a gun. No… it couldn't be the only way, it couldn't be! Did he hear the enforcer right? Lawrence scolded Denise suggesting they push him off the roof?!
On the verge of doing something rash and dangerous, Rocky suddenly was brought back by the leader's voice. One that men feared but in that moment it was soothing, genuine, the only thing that made sense. Of course they wouldn't kill him. They needed him.
The mechanic blinked the tears away, nodding gingerly to the order disguised as request. And as they all heard the pilot holler from inside the machine, Rocky felt inclined to hurry. His body shook from fear but he unfolded the sleeve and tried to convince himself that everything would be alright.
Still, his voice wavered as he spoke to Gunderson. "Alright, just tell me what you need."