This is Issue #40 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Safe. This is the fourth issue of Volume 7.
Issue 40 - SafeEdit
Billie rises early the next morning. Being one of the volunteers for the search mission, she needs to get ready. She notices Finn isn’t in the tent they share, and remembers it's his watch rotation this morning, up in the observation tower.
She makes her way to the observation tower and climbs the many steps. She opens the door at the top and sees Finn sitting and staring out the large window with a sniper rifle leaning against the wall. He turns and smiles and pats the seat on the other chair. She sits and squeezes his hand.
“It’s really beautiful, yeah?” he says. He’s looking out the window at the Chicago skyline, where underneath, in the parking lot, a few stray infected almost ruin the near-perfect view. “I could stare out here for hours.”
“It’s amazing,” she replies almost dreamily. “I remember when I first moved here and saw it for the first time in person. It’s kind of...” she trails off. The faintest feeling of dread begins to irk her.
“Kind of what?”
“It’s just sad. It looks so normal. Like, you could take a picture of the city right now and want to hang it on your wall. But in reality it’s just...dead.”
“We can always pretend it isn’t dead,” he says. “We can just look and think back to how it was before. Full of people and cars...”
“And amazing hot dogs.”
“And deep dish pizza...”
“And drug dealers. Don’t forget the drug dealers.”
Finn laughs, but his face soon gets more serious. “Hey. Are you still going on the search?” Billie nods. “Oh.”
"Just say it." She know he's frustrated with her consistent volunteering, whether it be to go on watch or on a supply run. He hasn’t voiced it, but she can tell. But it's just in her nature to be involved, to do something that can benefit the others she cares about.
"You don't always have to offer to leave, you know," Finn says.
"I don't always."
"Yes, you do. I know you can handle yourself or whatever, but there are thirty other people that could go on those runs."
"But half of those people can't even shoot straight, or have the balls to take out an infected up close," she counters.
"They're learning, and soon, maybe you can even relax for a bit. Let them carry some of the load of going on trips."
"Finn, if you don't want me to go today, just say it."
"Okay. I don't want you to go. But it doesn't matter if I say it because you're going to go anyway. Right?"
"Yeah, I am."
Finn sighs, extremely frustrated. "Why? Please explain to me why you feel the need to risk your life going out there."
"Because...I don't know! I just...if I go, I'm taking the place of someone else who could, potentially, get hurt or something. It's just the right thing to do. And I don't want to sit here and feel useless; I want to do something, be helpful."
"Okay. I get that. But do you ever wonder how I feel whenever you leave? Then I have to sit there wondering if you'll come back. If you're going to be fucking torn to shreds, or shot, or something."
"That's not going to happen."
His voice is strained as he noticeably tries not to shout. "You’re not a...a Goddamn fortune teller, so you don’t know that. It could happen. And the more you leave, the more likely it is that it will happen."
"Yes, you didn't think about that. Whatever. I get it. I get it." He's turned away from her, staring out the window.
"I've come back from every trip fine. Unhurt," she says.
"But every single time you leave it gets harder to think you'll come back okay." He sighs. “Just...think about staying, okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
“What’s up, Mulberry?” Devon says. Mulligan stands in front of the chain-link fence that makes up the perimeter of the airport. He gives a sharp whistle, and an infected lingering about twenty meters away snaps its head towards him. It limps over and Mulligan sticks his knife through the fence and into the its forehead. The sound always makes him cringe.
“I told you not to call me that,” Mulligan says. Devon stands next to him and places a hand on the fence.
“Don’t care. So...what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“With my shooting lessons. You totally bailed on me.”
“You’re Dad’s gonna find out, Dev. I’m sorry, but until you get his permission, I can’t go back to teaching you.”
“I have asked him literally a million times. He just, like, shuts me out.”
“Literally a million times?” Mulligan scoffs.
“No. Shut up. You know what I mean. Come on, Scott! Please?”
“No way, no how.”
“Please... Please. Please... PLEASEPLEASE.”
“No, I can’t do--”
He can feel the headache coming already. “OKAY. Fuck. Just shut up.” He pulls a small handgun with a silencer out of his weapons belt and hands it to her. She holds it in her hands for a few seconds, inspects it, and lifts it, placing the barrel through one of the holes in the fence. She smiles. It feels good to her, holding a gun. Like she can defend herself. Like she’s not dependent on anyone but herself.
“Hit...that one.” Mulligan points to an infected oblivious to their presence a good distance away.
“That’s kind of far...” Devon says.
“Rule number one: don’t doubt yourself. You’ve got a clear shot, yeah?” Devon nods. “Okay. If you’re out there, and an infected’s running at you, you’re not gonna have ten minutes to think it through. You’re gonna shoot. So... shoot.”
Devon pulls the trigger, and the bullet rips through the infected’s neck. “Good,” Mulligan says. “Aim higher.” Devon follows his instructions, and the corpse’s head flies backwards after she shoots.
“I’m good, aren’t I?” she says, lowering the gun.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. But...yeah. You’re pretty good.” She hands it back to him, but he shakes his head. Devon raises her eyebrows, confused. “Keep it.”
Devon smiles. “Are you serious? You’re serious. You’re the best, Scottie.” She gives him a hug, and he pats her back awkwardly.
“Yeah...Now, shoo. Go do some teenage-y girl things. Same time tomorrow?”
“Yep. Thanks.” She jogs back to the airport. “I owe you!” she calls back, and he gives her a thumbs up.
Abe has a clear view of Mulligan and Devon from the large window in Terminal 1. His fists continuously clench and unclench at his sides.
“You put a gun in her hand?!” Abe shouts in Mulligan’s face. Abe leans forward on his desk while Mulligan sits in a chair across from him. Mulligan is tense, uncomfortable. “She is a child, Scott, and you--”
“She’s almost eighteen,” Mulligan interjects, and he instantly regrets it. Abe slams his hand on the desk, making Mulligan flinch.
“I don’t care! She is not mature enough to handle a gun. I...I don’t want her thinking just because she can shoot, she’s free to roam around out there. You’ve known her for her whole life, practically?” Mulligan nods. “Then you know how she is. First, she learns how to shoot, then she wants to go outside the fence, to go on supply runs...” Abe trails off.
“And then she gets hurt. That’s what you’re thinking.” Abe collapses in his chair, rubbing his eyes. “Look, Abe. You know I respect you. Of course I do. But I just want to give you some advice.” He doesn’t respond, so Mulligan takes it as a cue to continue. “Dev isn’t twelve years old anymore. If you took some time to talk to her, maybe you’d know that. And I know you want to keep her safe, but not teaching her how to defend herself will just put her in more danger. Four months ago, yeah, I understand not putting her anywhere near a gun. But that was four months ago. Today, now, it’s different. It may be hard, but you have to take her off that leash and let her adapt to what the world is now. Peter, too. They’re not kids anymore. Yes, they may technically be teenagers, but they’re not children. Not anymore.”
Abe stares at him the whole time in disbelief. He leans forward in his chair and says quietly. “Are you telling me how to parent, Scott?”
“I’m just suggesting a few things,” Mulligan says quickly, scratching his head.
“You seriously had the fucking audacity to tell me how to parent?” Abe scoffs. “Because you couldn’t even keep your own kids safe, and you want to tell me how to keep mine out of danger?”
Mulligan breathes in sharply, caught off guard at the mention of his children. “I tried...I--I didn’t...” he blabbers, but he stops. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything, sir.”
“Right. You shouldn’t’ve said anything...Please. Get out.”
Mulligan stands, dejected and angry, and walks toward the door.
“Oh, man, you’re gonna be in so much trouble,” Peter taunts his sister.
“Shut up, asshole,” Devon says. She sits in a chair outside of her father’s office and listens to the shouts from inside.
“What do you think he’s gonna say?”
“I don’t fucking know Peter! God...”
“Oh, I know. He’s probably gonna say he’s disappointed. That’s gonna sting. Maybe cleaning duty, too.”
“Will. You. Please. Leave. Me. Alone. You asshole.”
“Or take away the library...or TV...or--” When Devon quickly wipes a tear from her cheek, Peter stops. He suddenly feels guilty, not meaning mean to make her cry. He fiddles with his fingers; he doesn’t really deal with crying girls well. “Hey, you okay? I--I’m sorry.”
“Just fuck off.” She crosses her arms and sniffles.
“I’m sorry. Really.” Devon shoots him a glare, and his mouth snaps shut. He looks back at her apologetically as he walks away and Mulligan exits their father's office.
Cole walks back to his tent, drying his hair with a towel after a quick shower before leaving for the search. He unzips the tent and leans in. ”Hey, Hannah, have you seen--” He stops when he sees her flipping through his notebook. “Woah. Where’d you get that?”
“I didn’t know you were writing again,” she says.
“Where’d you get that?” he repeats. He can feel his face warming up, and wonders if his face looks like a tomato, which makes him even more embarrassed.
“I found it in your pillowcase. You’re not very good at hiding things.”
“Well, yeah, I know that now.” He holds his hand out, expecting her to hand it back, but she holds it close to her chest.
“What? I can’t read it?”
“I’d prefer if you didn’t, yeah.”
“I already read the first fifteen pages. It’d suck if I couldn’t even finish it.”
“You got through fifteen pages? It’s not even good. Just...give it here.”
“Not good?” she says, honestly baffled. “Seriously? Cole, if it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t’ve gotten through fifteen pages. And I thought you wrote scripts...?”
“I took a stab at prose. Can I just get it back please?” She notices his embarrassment and reluctantly hands the notebook to him. “Thanks.”
“It really is good. The first few pages were just...y’know, really fantastic..”
He clears his throat, and changes the subject: “Are you ready? We’re leaving soon.”
Cole, Hannah, Billie, Adam, Airman Elle Morici, Tyler, and Robbie, stand in the parking lot, saying their goodbyes.
Abe stands among them after giving everyone the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones and friends. “Here’s how I’d like things to happen. Thomas and his crew last reported flying over a forest, with lots of empty roads nearby. I sent them to search for survivors going west, so the most logical course of action would be to head that way. If you find the forest, split into two groups to cover more ground. Use your walkies to stay in constant contact. Things go south, you meet up immediately back at the cars. You can figure out amongst yourselves how you’d like to split up.
“To be honest, I’m expecting the worst. But I need you to find out where they are. What happened. Please, be safe.”
Cole, Hannah, Adam, and Elle walk through the forest after over an hour of driving. Leaves continuously crunch under their footsteps. Cole chuckles as Adam and Elle walk ahead, arguing over something.
“So you’re actually trying to tell me The Rolling Stones are better than The Beatles?” Adam asks, in honest disbelief.
“Yeah,” Elle says. “The Beatles? Waaay overrated.”
“Do you even realize how much The Beatles have influenced music?”
“Sure. But at least The Stones put out good music.” Adam just sighs and shakes his head.
“What do you think?” Cole asks Hannah. But she just stares ahead, unresponsive. “Hannah?”
She snaps to. “What?”
“The Beatles or The Stones?”
“Oh. Uh. Beatles?”
“Hey. Are you okay?” Something looks...off about her. “You’re acting weird. Stop acting weird." He nudges her playfully with his elbow, and she gives a smile, barely detectable.
“I don’t really...I’m fine.” She sighs. “I’m good. I’m fine.”
“Look, if something’s wrong, I’m here. I’m always here.”
“I was just thinking about Kyle. Just seeing him there...dead. It was--it was just so...I can’t get it out of my head.” She doesn’t mention it, but flashes of killing Dr. Choi back at the lab mix in with her thoughts of Kyle. Their dead bodies looked so eerily similar, it unnerved her. “And that someone in the airport did it? Someone we know? It’s scary.”
“Abe’s gonna have someone look through the tapes today. We’ll find out who did it soon enough.”
“And then what?”
Cole didn’t think about that part. What are they going to do? Throw the murderer to the infected? Kill him then and there? “I don’t know. Whatever’s best for everyone.”
“You know what I meant. Do you think we should kill him? Or her. Whatever.”
“If that’s what it takes to keep everyone safe, then yeah. Yeah, we should.”
“And then my dad says, he says, ‘Robbie, the fuck are you doing?! Get out that Goddamn tree ‘fore I skin you!’” Robbie laughs loudly as he recites stories of his childhood to Billie and Tyler. Billie shoots Tyler a helpless look, and Tyler nods. “But guess what I did? I climbed higher! My pops, he was so damn angry. I was a little bad ass kid. Church boy, yeah, but I did what I wanted. No man telling me what to do, I'm tellin--”
“That’s great, Robbie, really,” Tyler says. “Hey, you want to lead? You went hunting with your dad, right?”
“Yeah. Tons’a times.”
“Then you have a better sense of direction than either of us. We’ll just follow behind.”
“Yes, sir, Private, sir.” Robbie walks a few feet ahead of them.
“Thanks,” Billie says. “I don’t know how much longer I could go without shooting him.”
Tyler laughs. “He’s a good guy. Just...a bit outspoken, I guess. But he's got some good stories, you've gotta admit.”
“Do you think they’re okay?” Billie asks, changing the subject referring to Thomas and the rest of the airmen. She’s usually okay with listening to her gut, but in this instance, she hopes she’s wrong. Something isn’t right.
“Maybe. I mean, we don’t even know if they’re here. So it’s always a maybe until we find them.”
“Guess you’re right.” Her walkie suddenly crackles to life, and Cole’s voice, slightly frantic, bursts through.
“We can see the helicopter,” Cole says. “It’s completely fucking totaled.”
Billie’s heart jumps. “Do you see them? Are they okay?”
“I can’t see---what the? Shit.” Cole’s voice disappears.
“Cole? Cole, what is it?” Billie asks, but there’s no response.