Four - A Missing Connection

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Phoenix

When I come to, it's obvious that we are in motion.

"Phoenix! You're awake!" I hear Rian cry.

I feel like I've been run over by a semi-truck. Surprisingly, I'm alive. "What happened?" I ask as my eyes begin to adjust, and I realize we are in an ambulance.

"Here." She hands me a juice box. "You need this. You've just lost a lot of blood."

"Where are we?" I ask, glancing around the metal box.

"We're still in Tennessee."

"Who's driving?" I ask, more alert now.

"Jean-Luc. I needed a doctor to be able to give you a blood transfusion."

I notice bandages on her arm. "You didn't..."

"I had to. You were going to die. And plus, I have O negative blood. You needed it more than me."

"Jerrica?" I ask, assuming she'll catch my drift.

"I didn't kill her, if that's what you're asking. But I injured her enough to slow her down."

"Why not? She was going to kill you." Under normal circumstances, I would worry about tainting my young sister's mind. But she's proven she's much stronger than I even knew. She can handle the harshness of the world better than I can.

"You said it yourself. We aren't Degenerates. I want to be able to live with my choices."

I nod stiffly. "Cullen, Ike?"

"We are going back. If there's any possibility they are alive...we'll find them." Thinking about going back makes me uneasy. Especially not knowing what we are returning to.

"Are you worried about Foster?" I ask softly.

Rian shrugs, but her eyes tell a different story. "He's taken care of himself for a while now. If anyone was able to talk their way out of their predicament, it would have been him."

"Phoenix, Rian," Jean-Luc calls from the front of the ambulance. I sit up and rip the IV out of my arm. I'm still a little woozy, but thanks to Rian, I will be okay. We approach the front of the ambulance, and can now clearly see our old location. There are biters mulling about, and there are remnants of bodies lying all over the ground. Jean-Luc covers his mouth in horror, gasping.

"Stay here," I order the pair.

"But..."

"But nothing," I cut her off. "Protect Jean-Luc. I'll be right back, I promise." As I hop out of the back of the ambulance, Rian hands me a sharp knife.

"Be careful," she warns me.

"I will," I reply as she shuts the doors behind me.

The biters take notice of the noise and begin slowly making their way toward me. A biter who must have been elderly when the virus took her over reaches for me. Her wrinkled skin sags off the bone and her eyes are sunken in and bloodshot. I stab her in the head, ripping it out quickly and then fend off my next attacker. This time, it's a middle-aged man. His hair is hanging from his head, the skin dangling along with it. I kick his leg out from under him, watching him fall to the ground with a thud. I'm on top of him in the next second, my knife putting him down for good.

After taking down the majority of them, I inch toward the bodies. The stench that is wafting off the dead bodies and biters is enough to make me gag, yet far too familiar at this point. I put my arm across my face to mask the smell and lean in close, trying to get a better look. Unfortunately, the bodies are dismembered. I'm lucky to find a hand attached to an arm. There are pieces of bodies, scattered about. It's a sickening sight. I find one foot and am able to deduce that it is not any of our people. There is a Degenerate hanging from a tree, who appears to have been bled out. He is the only full body I come across.

I make my way up the ladder to our old hideout, and there are blood-soaked towels all over the floor of the first one. Tears begin to sting the back of my eyes. Maybe they made it out? Maybe they found peace?

I clear each and every treehouse, making sure to sweep it more than once. When it is obvious they are nowhere in sight, I leave one more message. I have no idea if they made it out of here alive, but if there is even a sliver of a chance they will return, I want them to know we are safe. I take my knife and carve out a message on the back of the door in the first treehouse.

Rian and Phoenix were here. Headed to prison.

The prisons are supposed to be a safe haven for those that survived. The Treehouse Resort is no longer safe as the Degenerates know of its location. I need to take Rian somewhere she will be safe. I'm just hoping I'm making the right decision.

* * *

Ike

"Cullen, I know you're trying to do what's right by her, but going back there? It doesn't feel right." I saw the message as clearly as Cullen did, but we still have no idea if it was Phoenix or Rian who left it. We still have no idea who it was intended for. We barely made it out of the Treehouse Resort and to head right back seems like a step backwards.

"I thought you of all people would be headlining this savior mission. Why do you seem so anxious to abandon it now?" Cullen asks me, his lips in a tight line.

He's right...but so much has transpired since we last saw the girls alive. After everything that we found out about Jerrica, I can't imagine her losing the girls, much less letting them live. For all we know, they never made it out of the hospital, and the Degenerates are simply setting up a trap for us. I know Cullen is running on pure guilt. I can see it in his eyes. He hates himself for leaving us. Now he's worried he'll never get the chance to right his wrong. I want more than anything in the world to find the girls alive, but I'm just not as convinced that they are.

"I think we need to think about this logically. There is a lot of blood here, Cullen."

"So what are you saying? You think they didn't make it?" His tone is stiff as a board.

"That's not what I am saying...but the Degenerates are still out there, and once they find out what we did to their guys, they're going to be out for blood."

Cullen sighs. I know he cares for Phoenix, as do I. Hell, I care about Rian too, but Cullen isn't even 100%.

"Let me stitch you up," I offer, opening up a few different cabinets in search of the right utensils.

He obeys.

"I want to find them alive as badly as you do," I tell him, as I begin threading the needle through his skin.

He tenses up, sucking in deep breaths from the pain.

"I just think we need to be rational about this."

"So what are you saying?" Cullen hisses.

"I'm saying that if the girls are alive, we'll find them, but in the meantime, we need to make our survival a priority."

He groans loudly from the pain.

"You trusted me before. Think you can do it again?" I ask.

He sighs. "Fine colonel. I'll let you call the shots. But if I find them and they're not living and breathing, you're on your own."

"Fair enough."


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