Alice woke to the sound of arguing.
She was lying on a makeshift cot and she had seen enough of them now to know that it was ex-military. There were over a dozen similar cots lying around the room, all regimented, all of them empty. Her first thoughts were of Janice and Claybourne, then of where she was. Figuring that answering the second might also answer the first, she rose, her skin tingling and her head throbbing. She noticed that her arm had been bandaged and some form of oily residue clung to the skin of her face as if lotion had been applied. Images of fire ran through her mind and she steadied herself a moment as she rose, waves of nausea washing over her. She stumbled toward the voices, raised and angry, coming from outside the room.
When she pushed through the makeshift fabric door which separated the cot room from this, much larger hall, she was confronted by a sight she had not seen in a long time. In the middle of the room stood a man, rigid and unmoving and before her was a woman, middle aged, animated and completely incensed. She was screaming at the man in a wild, passionate manner and the men returned verbal fire with measured and not entirely calm responses. Around them were seats in a bleacher styling and upon them sat, what looked like an army. They wore army fatigues and were a mix of men and women, young and old and though tired, they watched intently at the argument that was proceeding before them. It had all the feel of a boxing match, the room barely lit by generator lamps and the seating forming an amphitheater about the two combatants.
Alice, her entry unnoticed felt faint. Humanity. It had been so long since she had seen so much humanity in one place, she had begun to convince herself that there were not this many humans left alive. Yet here they were and in that moment her thoughts of Claybourne and Janice slipped from her mind.
“We broke their f—king backs today, John!” The woman was stating, in a controlled rage, “What scares you so much about that?”
“Nothing scares me about it, Claire.” He responded, his eyes searching to meet hers as she paced around the space, flailing her arms and dragging on a cigarette. “It was just an unnecessary risk. That’s all. We risked everything and for what?”
“For people, John!” She was screaming now, her voice becoming wild and out of control, “For f—cking human beings! What else are we here for? Huh? What other f—king purpose is there but to use what we have to help others?”
“And is it worth losing everything… everyone for that, Claire? So you can go off on another of your humanitarian crusades? We all meant to lose what we have for your ego? Is that it?”
The seated crowd groaned as Claire flicked her still lit cigarette butt at him, hitting him in the neck. He did not flinch.
“No, John, that’s not it at all.” She pulled her gloves off and threw them on the ground. “It’s not about me, you pompous ass and it’s not about you. We saved three people today, three f—king lives. While you want to just hide away in here and let the world go to hell, we went out and saved three human beings from torture then death. We stopped three more of those hell spawn out there from coming into this world… our world. And you think that’s ego? You think that’s to do with me?”
“Isn’t everything, Claire?” John replied in an icy tone. “Isn’t everything to do with you?”
He didn’t even see her fist coming. She swung it so hard and so fast that the first he knew was the feeling of falling, of the world tipping up beneath him and throwing him to the ground. His head cracked against the floor beneath them and blood ran from his mouth. He danced around the edges of unconsciousness a moment, before pure rage brought him back. Realising what had happened, John bounced back onto his feet and rushed at her, only to find Claire ready, in fighting stance, connecting another fist to his jaw. He took it better this time, only a tooth flying loose and threw massive hay makers at her, none of them connecting as she bobbed and weaved before him, throwing wild blows of her own.
That was when the crowd surged in and pulled them apart. John and Claire kept fighting, throwing fists and abuse at one another as the group fought to hold onto them.
They dragged Claire to one side of the room and John to another and a tall, wiry man; Briar ran between them both, offering calming words and placing his hands gently on each.
The room stopped. All sounds and motions ceased as they turned toward the woman now stood in their doorway, speaking to them in calm and human tones.
“For what it’s worth, thank you for saving me. For saving my friends and i.” Although weak and woozy, Alice held herself upright by leaning against the door frame and gripping tightly. “My friends… they are here too?”
There was a moment of silence, before Briar stepped toward her hesitantly.
“They are here, yes.” He said, putting his hand out before him as he stepped toward her, “My name is Briar. And you are?”
“Alice.” She replied, struggling to keep her grip upon the frame, “My name is Alice.”
“Very nice to meet you, Alice.” He said, moving his unshaken hand back to his side, “You are safe here… you and your friends… you are safe now.”
“Safe?” Alice queried with a faint laugh, sweat streaking her brow, “What is safe?”
Briar stepped forward and put a hand upon each of Alice’s shoulders,
“You, all of you must have had a hard time out there, yes?”
Alice smiled, then vomited on Briar’s chest as blackness invaded her vision, her face falling into the patch of sick she had just deposited.
“Nah.” She burped as unconsciousness took her again, “Best time of my life.”