This is Issue #78 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Better The Devil You Know. This is the final issue in Volume 13.
Issue 78 - Better The Devil You KnowEdit
Jake breathes heavily standing over the infected, its head no longer intact but smeared along the tiled floor. He lazily wipes his knife on his jeans and places it back on his belt.
"I--I think it's dead," Cole says, then clearing his throat nervously.
"Yeah. I know," Jake says. He turns, his face specked with blood. Cole reaches around and brings his pack to his front, and retrieves a small rag from it. He hands it to Jake, who uses it to wipe his blood-stained face.
Cole takes one last look at the infected and grimaces before delving deeper into the store.
Near the back of the thrift shop, piles and piles of boxes are stacked, overflowing with random items. Alec sifts through them, Devon by his side, finding nothing of interest. "Snow globe?" he asks, lifting up the small glass sphere and shaking it. Devon shakes her head.
"Um...what about this flute? I think it's a flute," Devon says, and she hands him a small metal instrument with holes on the outside she assumes are for placing your fingers.
"That's a piccolo," Alec corrects. He turns it around and around a few times, blowing off the dust.
"What the hell is a piccolo?"
Alec laughs and explains, "It's kind of like a flute. It's smaller... more high pitched. I've got no use for it though." He tosses it back into the box and keeps scouring through until something bright and silver catches his eye. He lifts it up and smiles. It's a necklace, with a small angel as the pendant. "Hey. What about this?"
Devon turns her head and holds her hand out. He hands the jewelry to her, and she gawks at it. "Wow, this is really nice, actually. Especially for this dump."
"I know you're not religious or anything, but I think that'd look nice on you. See how it looks. I'd put it on for you but, y'know..." He lifts his stump. "Stumpy gets in the way again."
Devon complies and quickly clips it around her neck. She twists the angel around absentmindedly. "So...how does it look?"
"Really nice. Really, really nice," he says, after taking a few seconds to respond. "Beautiful. And I'm not talking about the necklace."
"Oh, God, don't be a cheeseball, alright?" she says, and, with the heat rushing to her cheeks, she gives him a kiss. She ends up wrapping her arms around him, pulling him into a tight hug. "I know I don't...express it enough, but you really are amazing, you know that?" she whispers.
"Forget about it. I know I'm amazing, you don't have to say it."
"Pushing it." She smirks, pulls away and grabs his hand, interlocking her fingers with his as the continue down the aisle lined with boxes. "If I tell you something, will you promise not to freak out?"
"Unless, a) you're pregnant, or b) you have cancer, I probably won't freak out."
"It's neither of those things, so you're good. But, do you remember how you said all of the bad stuff is going to follow us around, no matter what?"
"Do you still think that's true?" she asks
"...For the most part. Why? Do you?"
"Yeah. Sort of. When--when you said it, I took it as...everything that's terrible in the world--which is a lot of stuff now--will always be there. So much so there'd never be any room for anything...anything just purely good. Or, if there was, it'd all be gone soon. All of the good things, I mean. I don't really believe that anymore. There's room for good, there's room for bad. The whole Yin and Yang. Sometimes you've got the evil that wins, sometimes the good...you never know. It's so unpredictable. And right now, I'm not entirely sure which is going to come out on top to be honest. So, just in case...I really, really need you to know that you're the best thing that's happened to me since the world ended, really, and I love you." That last part doesn't feel forced, but completely natural; but she still finds that her stomach is knotting up immediately after saying it. Still walking, she glances at him imperceptibly, looking for some kind of response.
"Who's the cheeseball now?" he jokes.
"Still you. By a landslide."
He honestly can't believe these next seven words are coming out of his mouth at age 16, but they do anyway because they're absolutely true: "I love you, too. I really do."
Adam walks side by side with Billie to the auditorium, per Alexander's request. "I really want pizza, dude," Adam says.
"Pizza? Where is this coming from?" Billie asks.
"I dunno. I'm really craving it. And pickles, for some reason. Peanut butter, Ritz crackers...A nice bottle of Coke."
"You’re not pregnant...are you?"
"Was planning to tell you..." he says, and they both laugh. They turn the corner into the lobby when they hear someone, a woman, clear her throat behind them.
"Excuse me," Adrienne says, and Billie and Adam both turn to her. In her hand she holds a navy blue jacket. "I--I know we're supposed to be heading somewhere, but, um, Adam, you left your jacket in the cafeteria. I mean, I believe this is your jacket. Is it?"
"Oh. Yes, it is actually." He takes it from her, and nods and smiles in thanks.
"Erm, sorry, but just one more thing..." Adrienne says. "I know he won't apologize for it so I will: my brother's behavior yesterday was uncalled for. Extremely unnecessary. But you have to know, Hector only made a mistake. Don't think of this as me defending what he did to you, Adam. I never will defend him for that. But he's not a bad person, and I don't want either of you to think he is. He made a bad choice. A terrible choice. You are right not to forgive him, but don't let that sway you into thinking either of us are bad people. We're not. It's been hard for me as well and... I just need someone to understand that."
Billie and Adam take a quick glance at each other before Adam says, "Listen, we--we don't blame you for anything Hector did. What he did was his own fault, and none of our animosity is directed towards you. Well, unless, of course, you want to shoot me too. I hope you don't." He flashes a small smile to make her feel a bit better, and she returns it.
"No, no, I wouldn't want to harm you. Not at all."
"Good to hear," Adam says. "And with Hector...I think he knows what he did was wrong. He should, at least. But I’m not gonna say I totally forgive the guy, because I don’t, but I can understand that he was manipulated into doing something he probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I know he’s not an inherently bad dude, and I don’t hate him, but we’ll just do our own separate things. And you shouldn’t feel any wrong for what he did.”
“That can be very hard when you hear people whispering behind your back,” Adrienne says.
“Those people are assholes,” Adam replies, and this makes Billie smile. "Come to the auditorium with us, sit with us."
"I actually have to head to the ladies' room really quickly, but I-I'll be there."
"Find us when you get there."
"Of course." After one last faint smile, she turns the other direction.
Now that she's finally gone, Billie slaps Adam on the arm. "Aw, Adam, you're so sweet."
"Sweet?" he scoffs as they continue walking. "I was being nice."
"No, no, no, you were being sweet because you like her."
"Come on, she's been having a tough time lately. I'm being friendly."
"Friendly? Okay, you're 23, she's--I don't know--24, 25? She's tall. She's pretty. She's French. And you don't like her? I don't believe you."
"What the hell is up with all this matchmaking going on?" he says as he opens the door the the auditorium. The sheer number of people inside forces them to increase their volume. "I must hang out with crazy people."
"Alright. Forget it. But when you're leaving her room at 3:00 in the morning, remember I predicted it."
They take a seat in one of the middle rows of the auditorium, adjusting their bodies in the red wooden seats. An empty podium sits on the stage, awaiting Alexander's presence. It takes a few minutes, but everyone else appears--Cole, Alec, Lienne, Devon, Duke, Hiro, Tora, Chloe, and even Adrienne, who accepted the offer and takes a seat next to Adam.
“Lienne!” Duke shouts as he takes a seat next to her, and she’s slightly startled. “How’d the date go?”
She sighs discontentedly before saying, “Terrible. Bad. Really bad.”
Duke frowns, legitimately disappointed. “What happened?”
“Um...she was too...forward. I mean, I could barely finish talking before she asked if we wanted to go to her room.”
“Yes, that’s bad.”
“Lienne is a respectable young woman that has standards, Duke,” Alec says from the seat to Duke’s left, and Lienne nods in agreement. “She’s not gonna sleep around willy nilly with any attractive girl she comes across! Right?"
"Right," Lienne agrees.
"Sleeping around ain't all bad. Just ask Cole," Duke says.
"Wait, what?" Cole stutters at the mention of his name.
"Sleeping around?" Billie and Chloe say in unison.
"Oh, was this not common knowledge?" Duke says apologetically. "My bad."
Cole looks to Duke and mouths the words "I hate you." A mischievous smile on his face already, Duke can barely hold back his laughter.
"Okay, let's try an easier one," Adrienne says to Adam. "Say this: Bonjour, je m'apelle Adam."
"Alright. Bun jore. Jam apple, Adam," he says confidently.
Adrienne covers her mouth with her hand as she bursts into laughter; slightly embarrassed, Adam feels his cheeks getting warmer. "Was that bad?" Adam asks.
Adrienne quickly composes herself, moving her hair out of her face. "No. It wasn't that bad. Really," she lies. "Let's just try an even easier one. Say--" She's cut off by the sound of someone tapping the microphone. Alexander stands up on stage, tapping a stack of papers on the podium, with Griffin by his side, who has his hands clasped behind his back.
“Hello. Sorry for the wait,” Alexander begins. "Let's just get straight into it." The chatter in the auditorium steadily quiets down, most in attendance unsure of what they’ve been called to gather for. Alexander waits patiently for silence before continuing, looking down at his papers. “My father always told me...anytime I needed to make a big decision: ‘Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.’ Not that he didn’t want me to take risks...he just always wanted me to make the smartest decisions possible. To think things through. And his words couldn’t ring more true right now.
“We’re all, I think, very distraught by what happened yesterday. Most of you, of course, are very confused. This woman...” He sighs and adjusts his glasses. “I take full responsibility for not informing everyone about her sooner. Frankly, I’m ashamed you had to find out about her that way. Through Aubrey’s death. It was difficult for me to think of ways to explain her existence in a fragile manner, as to not cause panic. In the end, I settled on keeping it a secret, which was a grave mistake that I sincerely do apologize for. But her name is Roxie. To be very frank with you, she’s intimidating, she’s scary, she’s demanding. And what she’s demanding is any supplies we can possibly spare. Medicine, food, water, you name it, she wants it. And what I know is that if we keep supply her, we’re safe. What I don’t know exactly is what’ll happen if we stop. And I’m not very keen on guessing.
“Therefore, we’re making a few changes. No excess. You take what you need, and that’s it. Any selfishness will not go unnoticed, and it will be returned with consequences. More supply runs as well, deeper into the city, which we will conduct by rotation.”
He goes on like this for some time, a small set of new changes that he describes in detail. What certain things you should look for one runs, the possible creation of ammo, periodic training for most residents. Everyone playing their own part. Griffin’s position as his new right hand man, so to speak, and his availability if anyone’s in need of anything.
“This all needs to be done, which is why I’m now taking all of the necessary steps to being a leader for you all,” Alexander says. “Don’t think of all this change as a bad thing. It’s all just precaution; you don’t need to worry. You can go on living the lives you did before. Roxie is just another nuisance we’ll have to deal with. Thank you. You’re free to go.”
Hector is pacing in his suite, a soft song from his iPod acting as background noise for the room. Waiting, and waiting. Getting increasingly frustrated that Adrienne hasn’t knocked on his door an hour after beckoning her.
Finally, he hears someone pound on the door. He flings it open, and his sister stands in the doorway.
“Are you kidding me?” he barks at her, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her inside. He slams the door behind her, the loudness of it making her cringe.
“What? What’s wrong with you?” she asks.
“You want to affiliate with them now? After they won’t even forgive me? I’m your own brother, Addie. Family. That’s the lowest form of betrayal.”
“Betrayal? They’re nice people. And what did you honestly expect, Hector? You tried to murder half of them.”
His face hardens, an expression that’s laced with hurt if you look hard enough.
“What I did, I did for you. So Marsh wouldn’t send you off as some fucking sex slave. I did it to protect you, and you don’t even appreciate that! You are pathetic.”
“Do you realize this is why I want nothing to do with you anymore? You are the one that’s pathetic. Not anyone else. When you learn that is when I’ll speak to you again.”
For Roxie, the ride to the Hyatt is peaceful and uneventful. Savannah, on the other hand, is pissed she has to visit this place again. But Roxie’s requests are never questioned and complaining is more than frowned upon. They’ve only brought one car this time, looking less for the intimidation factor and more of actually getting things done.
Walter honks once they stop in front of the hotel, and the men at the gate are instantly on guard. He retracts the sunroof, and Sterling stands to poke his head out. “Tell Alexander he’s got a message from Roxie! Bring him out here,” Sterling shouts, and Archie is quickly off into the hotel.
“Think he’ll say yes?” Walter asks, catching Roxie’s eye in the rearview mirror.
“He better,” she replies.
Alexander knows better than to have her wait too long, and soon he’s scurrying from the hotel, still pulling his coat on. She exits the car, leaving Sterling, Walter, and Savannah alone. “Something you need?” Alexander says over the wind, which conceals the slight shaking in his voice as he prepares for the worst.
“Yes, actually. There is. But don’t worry, I’m not here to blow anyone’s brains out. Not today anyway,” Roxie says, and Alexander swallows hard. “Mind if we go inside?”
“Inside?” Alexander asks with a hint of disbelief. “Tell me what you want first.”
“We’re gonna have to eventually. There’s someone I want to talk to.”
“And who might that be?”
“Marsh told me something a few months ago. Some guy. French. He has a sister, too.”
“I don’t know his fucking name. Is his name Hector?”
“That’s the only person I can think of...you want to talk to him? Why?”
“That’s between me and...Hector.”
Alexander removes the snow-covered glasses from his face and slips them into his pocket. This request makes him uneasy, a little more so than Roxie’s usual demands, it being so out of place from what she usually does. “I don’t know if I really like the sound of that,” Alexander says.
“Alex,” Roxie says with a slight, but noticeable, edge to her voice.
What can he do? Denying her is out of the question. “Fine,” he says. “I’ll bring him out.”
“Oh, no. I’m coming inside.”