Chapter Fifteen: Another World

 

"What the Hell, Peter?" Freckles shoves her hands against Peter's chest, forgetting her strength and knocking him back a foot or so as he stumbles to catch his footing. His eyebrows work into surprised concern as he rests a hand against the wall to steady his balance.

"Seriously? Is violence always the answer with you?" he shoots back.

She can't hide the hint of hurt in her voice as she replies, "You got something to say?"

"You already know what I'm going to say. Sacrificing that man on my behalf? I thought we agreed we wouldn't be killing. Not if we could help it."

Freckles is irate. She marches directly up to Peter and attempts to square him up, despite his size. "I've told you: it's kill or be killed in here. I'm not apologizing for saving your life because, whether you like it or not, I value our friendship."

"And what about Simon, hmm?"

"Who?" she blurts out.

"That man your precious Meryl killed back there. He had a name, you know. Simon."

"I thought you said you didn't know anyone that came in with you," Freckles mutters, backing up one space.

"I didn't. But, unlike you, I like to get to know people - more than just the ones I can get something from."

Freckles sees red. "Run that by me again, because you'd better not be insinuating what I think you are…"

"See, that's what I don't get!" Peter throws his hands into the air. "'Insinuate.' You're intelligent, but you hang around with a meathead, ignoring everyone else unless they have something to offer. Take Gran for instance." He throws up one finger. "You only speak to her because she makes trades. You only speak to Diggs when you need information. You used to talk to Irish, but I bet that was only because he could make you feel less guilty about things - go on. Tell me I'm wrong." When Freckles doesn't answer, he continues, "And you keep Meryl around because you're afraid to let other people in, even though you know he's no good for you."

No one has ever talked to her this way - not even Meryl. Freckles is half tempted to sock Peter right in the nose, but it might only fuel his theories, so she asks, feigning confidence, "If that's true, what could I possibly get from you?"

The elevator dings, but Peter's eyes are only on Freckles. "I have no clue. I thought, maybe, it was a conscience. But after what I just saw back there with Simon…he had family, you know. Outside of this place. I didn't know it when we were brought in here, but I started talking with him after we got thrown into this trap. - He has two teenage girls out there. The Dandies caught him, but they didn't get them. And now...those girls are without a father. Who are you, 'Freckles', to judge who lives and who dies?"

Freckles takes a shaky breath before exhaling, "I didn't know Simon. I know you. - And his girls are probably dead by now, anyway." She retrieves her dagger and turns toward the open elevator doors, listening to the sound of silence. "Look, can we put this aside for the time being? You can go back to hating me after we figure out what's on this floor."

"Fine by me," Peter mutters, picking up the spear from the floor. He kicks the Dandy's head, and it rolls to the corner of the elevator, leaving a trail of murky, stale blood.

"Look who decided to grab a weapon," she chides, bitter.

"I don't think we'll find anything living on this floor," he tells her, less prideful than before. "I'm not against taking down something that's already dead." Peter motions to the decapitated Dandy. "Obviously."

Freckles steps off the lift first and is surprised to find Peter dragging the Dandy corpse into the doorway, preventing it from shutting.

"Incase we need to make a quick getaway," he whispers. With the spear back in his hand, he takes point, taking careful strides into the hallway. They both jump when lights flicker on above their heads, clean and bright. Fluorescent bulbs illuminate the soaked carpets in a combination of stale blood and other bodily fluids. This place certainly had high Dandy traffic, that's for sure. On both sides of the hall, windows reflect their images back at them. It's dark on the other side of the window, so Freckles presses her face up against the glass to get a better look.

Sitting upon tables are rows upon rows of monitors. Each one holds a different image on its screen; some she recognises as the Bazaar, while others are sleeping cells and pictures of Detox. But they aren't just pictures...no, they're surveillance cameras, capturing every moment of The Spa's upper workings.

"It's the same on the other side," Peter mumbles, leaning against the window beside Freckles and cupping his face to block out the lighting behind him, "I've never seen a camera, have you?"

All she can do is shake her head, too lost in the shock factor of it all to give a proper answer. Freckles swallows down a lump in her throat and absently reaches for Peter's hand against the glass. He pauses, staring at her hand in his before trailing his gaze up to her and giving her fingers a light squeeze. It's as if what transpired in the elevator never happened. Maybe they both know it was stupid to argue in the first place, considering there were much more important matters at hand.

"Let's keep going," he says, and they walk hand in hand down the hallway, further into the unknown. Behind them, the lights flicker back off, and in front of them, new lights brighten the path in front of them. Ahead are three doors and a dead end. One leads into the right surveillance room, one to the left, and the center door is only marked by a daunting, bloody handprint near the handle, smeared and flaking. There are no scanners on the left and right door, only the middle.

"I'll take the right door," Freckles whispers, "and you take the left. Five minutes, and we meet back here."

"If this were a horror movie, I'd be the first to die, you know," Peter quips, releasing her hand to take his designated door. Holding his breath, he turns the handle - and it opens. Freckles tries her door and finds the same result.

Stepping inside the surveillance room is like walking into a musty attic that hasn't been opened since the creepy family died inside some years ago. There's a distinct smell of rotten flesh, but no Dandy to blame. Freckles tightens her grip on her knife as she begins examining the rows of monitors set on lines of desks. This could have easily been a telemarketing firm before Wormwood. A thick coating of dust blankets everything in the room so that when Freckles inhales, she's forced to cough. An abandoned swivel chair is the culprit to the disgusting smell filling her senses; a Dandy's lower half rests in the seat, deteriorating into the rotted cushion. The upper half of the Dandy is nowhere to be seen, but a trail of brown to the door suggests it crawled its way out some time ago.

"Gross…" Freckles uses her blade to poke and prod the bottom of the Dandy out of the chair. It falls to the floor with a thunk and a squish. After brushing off the cushion, she takes a seat in the chair, not caring if it still holds remnants of a carcass. The world is disgusting already, and she shouldn't be picky - the chair is rather comfy. Plus, it makes it easier to watch the monitors at eye level. She swivels around the Dandy's body as she moves from screen to screen, taking in each sight. There's even surveillance of Namaste. Freckles searches for Meryl automatically but can't find him. Her stomach plummets as panic builds inside her chest. Then she finds him, bat in full swing as he takes down the woman she and Peter saw earlier - the one carving into some poor soul. She wonders why she even worried at all; no one can kill Meryl.

Two knocks take her by surprise, and Peter enters, lance in hand. "Find anything?"

"It's just The Spa," she replies, gesturing to the screens as he approaches her side. "The kill floors, recovery, cafeteria." She points to the screen and presses against Meryl's image. Beside it is a time stamp. "Is that really the date?" Her heart skips a beat.

"What is it?" Peter asks.

"I guess I was a couple of days off. It's my dad's birthday today." She rests her chin against her hand and stares at Meryl, her surrogate family figure, wondering what her dad would say now if he could see her struggling to maintain a grip on the only family she has left. What Peter said in the elevator strikes a chord with her - she knew she was distant with everyone else, but she didn't know the extent of it. Not until Peter came in, guns blazing so to speak, and threw a reality check in her face. "Is it like this on the other side?" she asks.

"I think you need to come take a look," he replies. Freckles sighs, pushing herself up out of her comfortable chair. She follows him to the other surveillance room. Her mouth falls open when she sees what's on the monitors: outside. Empty streets, littered with trash, abandoned cars, and rusting bits of metal glow on the screens. Ivy and vines grow around the perimeters of the buildings next to theirs. Freckles spots a deer passing camera and gasps. Peter places a hand on her shoulder. "Beautiful, isn't it?"

She holds a hand up to her mouth, taking in the sights. With Peter by her side, she travels from monitor to monitor, relishing in the display of the streets and buildings surrounding The Spa. She'd been unconscious when she arrived; she had no idea it was so beautiful. The views from floor five and beyond didn't give the city justice like seeing it at ground zero. St. Louis was a breathtaking wonderland. Just seeing it in all its glory, Freckles can nearly taste the fresh air.

"So amazing," she mumbles, more to herself than to Peter. He doesn't realize, and replies with a nod of the head.

"It really is."

"Can we live down here?" she blurts out, glancing at all of the monitors. "We can just gather food...and supplies...we never have to go back."

"Yeah, until we Rage and destroy everything," Peter points out, popping Freckles's dream instantly.

Her chest deflates. "Yeah. I know."

"Why do you think there aren't Dandies here, guarding the elevators?" he asks.

"I suppose because there aren't any humans to monitor," she replies. "Besides, I didn't think Dandies cared much for humans. Why are we on display in these rooms, I wonder…"

"Something doesn't add up," Peter agrees. His eyes fall on a monitor to their far right. "Did you see that?"

Freckles makes her way down to the monitor in question; it's a display of a parking garage, presumably located under the building's foundation. There are several cars, some older, some she recognizes as the grabbing trucks the Dandies use. "What am I looking for?"

Then she sees it - a movement at the bottom of the screen. A human.

It's a man, though she can only tell by the build. A mask covers his face; Freckles recognizes it as one used for paintball sessions. He holds a bottle in his hand, and he appears to be gesturing to something off the screen.

"A wild Rager?" she suggests.

"No, look at the way he's holding that bottle. His hands aren't shaking. He's fully aware." Peter leans closer, nearly cheek to cheek with Freckles. He taps his finger to the other side of the screen, toward the back. "Dandies." Sure enough, a mass of Dandies - more than any Freckles has ever seen at once - fill the screen, slowly marching toward the man. "There has to be at least thirty…"

They both watch, mystified at the sight as the man approaches the Dandies, waving the bottle around. He pulls out a lighter and sets fire to a rag hanging out the stem of the bottle. As the rag burns, the man shakes the contents and tosses it at the Dandies. When the bottle breaks, its contents begin to light a blaze against the Dandy hoard, flaming them up in a colorful display on three of the nearby screens. Suddenly, there are more humans, tossing bottles and shooting pistols.

"It's a riot," Peter says, slackjawed. Freckles isn't much better off, eyes as wide as saucers as she takes in the carnage of humans battling Dandies. Someone raises their arm back - a woman, judging by the size. In her hands is something small and round. "Oh fuck." The object flies across the screen and lands in the Dandy crowd before exploding upon impact. Dandy parts fly this way and that, and seconds later, the floor beneath their feet shudders.

"Holy shit," Freckles gasps, glancing down. "Was that a grenade?"

"Yup," Peter replies, not missing a beat. "There's no way they can take on that many Dandies, even with more explosives. They just keep coming." Sure enough, the population is overwhelmed by the undead, picking the humans off like flies. Peter and Freckles search the monitors, scraping together any information they can. There seems to be one thing all of the humans have in common; there's a patch on their left shoulder of a tribal rune of flames with letters underneath that read: H.A.C.T.

It becomes apparent the humans will fail, but the two cheer them on from their front row view on Floor Five, hoping for another outcome. Blood splatters the walls of the garage, marking car doors and Dandies alike. Suddenly, arrows fly across the screen, sinking into the chests of several Dandies at once, forcing them to topple over from the connected weight of one another.

"That arrow," Peter points to the screen, "where did it come from?"

Freckles scans the different monitors until she sees someone standing on the hood of a jeep, threading a new arrow into their bow. "It's a woman. Look." She ushers Peter to the screen to watch. The woman's back is turned to the monitor, but she isn't phased as she steadies her stance, this time sending an arrow flying into the eye of a nearby Dandy. She appears to be shouting orders, though they can't hear what is said. Then, she looks over her shoulder, swinging her arm to grab another arrow.

Peter nearly jumps at the screen. "No." He crouches down on his knees and shakes his head. "No, no way."

"What?" Freckles asks.

His voice as heavy as a cinder block, Peter replies, "I know her. Her name's Angelique."

"You know her?"

Peter continues to stare at the monitor, fixated. "She's my sister."