Madison bursts through the storage room door just as Elyza fades away; Alicia barely manages not to jump.
“There you are,” Madison says with relief, hands on her hips. “Come on, Strand says there’s a boat practically on our tail; we need to go prepare.”
“Prepare what?” Alicia asks, staring at the opposite wall.
“I don’t know, some kind of defense, a deterrance against whoever these guys are.”
Alicia turns, cranking her neck to the side.“The people following us. They’re criminals.”
Madison’s eyes widen, and narrow. “And how do you know that?”
“I talked with one of them.”
Madison steps forward. “You what- ”
“It wasn’t my fault they found us.” Alicia interrupts, and she swings her legs around to hop off of the crate. For the first time since she received it, the radio is silent. She glances at it, expression unreadable, and back at Madison.
“They’ve been following us since we left. Ofelia was right.”
Guilt sparks through Alicia’s numbness; Ofelia. Oops.
“They?” Madison asks again; she massages her temples, closes her eyes. “Okay. Okay. But who did you talk to? I thought you said you didn’t tell them anything?”
“I didn’t!” Alicia snaps, too loudly. “But after she told me the name of the ship , I knew we were screwed anyway. So...I,” Alicia frowns “I..”
Madison looks at her expectantly. Alicia shrugs, helplessly.
“I don’t know.” She says, sounding weak even to her own ears. “I thought maybe, I could convince her to not to attack.”
Madison laughs humorlessly. “Well. Did it work?
Alicia makes a face. “What do you think?”
“I think you need to come upstairs, and help us move some stores around.”
The lower deck’s abandoned. Alicia and Madison move too quickly for walking, but too lumbering for running; Alicia catches Chris’s head poking out of his room as they reach the upper hallway.
He immediately retreats, slamming the door shut, and Alicia slows; Madison doesn’t notice until she’s already halfway up the stairs.
“Hey, come on, Daniel needs us now .” Madison says impatiently, motioning with her arm. Alicia glances over her shoulder.
“Someone else needs me more,” She mutters, stopping completely outside Chris’s room.
“Nothing. Go on without me, I’ll be up in a sec,” She calls, louder.
“Alicia, we don’t have time for this.”
Madison grips the railing; clearly agitated. “You know what? Fine. Ten minutes. If you’re not up by then, though, I’m coming down. And it won’t be pretty.”
“Deal.” Alicia flashes an insincere smile, and turns to knock on Chris’s door.
“Hey, I know you’re in there.” She presses her mouth against the crack of the door, lips cool against steel. “Open up.”
The door doesn’t respond, and neither does Chris. Alicia rests her forehead against the smooth surface, biting her tongue to keep from raising her voice. Easy. He’s not a puzzle to solve, a code to crack; he’s a ticking bomb not yet armed, and if she handles this right, he won’t ever be.
“Chris. Please. I just want to talk.”
Another beat, and Alicia is one clenched fist away from punching the door before she’s forced step back to keep from losing her balance. Dark, angry eyes and a scowl greet her.
“What?” Chris snaps. He shifts back and forth on his feet, arm at its length on the doorframe.
Alicia is suddenly struck with deja vu; she runs her hands through her hair with agitation. She really does need to apologize to Ofelia.
“Took long enough. Has Strand filled you in yet?” She asks breezily, folding her arms. Chris lowers his arm, and shrugs.
“Depends on what you mean by ‘filling me in’. All he said is someone’s following us, but he doesn’t know who. Either military or…”
“Or?” Alicia presses. Chris shrugs again.
“He didn’t finish.”
Alicia grinds her teeth together. Of course he didn’t. “Well, they’re pirates.”
Chris’s dull eyes spark with interest. He looks around her, behind his own shoulder, and leans in closer. “Pirates? Like, Jack Sparrow?”
Alicia snorts; she wishes. Johnny Depp would be a welcome addition to this mess. “More like Edward Teach.”
Chris stares blankly at her.
Chris blinks. “Oh.” He grins. “ Oh . That’s wicked.”
“What? No, it’s not ‘wicked’, it’s awful.” Alicia says incredulously. “They’re going to steal our stuff .” Her voice quickens. “Chris, they might kill us.”
“So?” Chris blows a strand of hair out of his eyes. His grin is wide, but more for baring his teeth than smiling. “I say let them try.”
Alicia stares at him. “Chris.”
He meets her eyes, levelly, and Alicia sees only herself reflected back. “Alicia.”
“Look.” Alicia says, anger seething into her tone. “Look, I know you might not care about what’s left of your family,” Chris’s eyes widen; still she continues, “But I care about what might happen to mine. And you know what, like it or not, you’re a part of that.”
Alicia steps closer, breath catching in her throat; Chris stills. His eyes are so very wide, and so very empty. A single, black hair strand falls between the ridge of his nose and the curve of his brow, and Alicia feels a desperate urge to tuck it behind his ear.
“Please.” She whispers earnestly, searching him. “We have to try and fix this.”
Chris stares at her. His mouth opens, shuts, and he asks, softly “You really think I’m family?”
“I don’t think . I know.” Alicia tells him. “It’s a personal philosophy of mine.”
The corner of Chris’s mouth turns up, in a smile. It’s small, and it’s reserved, but it’s the first one she’s seen in a very long time.
He glances back into his room, and back at her. His smile widens.
“Then I guess we’d better make like family and fix our shit.”
Turns out there isn’t much shit to fix.
“It’s too late, Strand says they’re ‘already on us’.” Nick says, leaning against the bar and raising his fingers in quotes. He runs his hands through his hair. “All thing’s considered, dude’s pretty chill about this.”
Alicia considers ‘chill’ and ‘Strand’ not to belong anywhere near each other. Ice cold, maybe.
“What do you mean ‘it’s too late’? We’re just giving up?” Chris asks with disbelief. Nick pauses, eyes flicking over to Alicia.
“Um. Yeah. Guess we are.” He answers, slowly. “Hey, Alicia, mom just went back downstairs; she might want us to help her pack.”
“Pack? Pack what?” Alicia raises her eyebrows. Nick blinks at her, and he tilts his head ever so slightly forward. Towards Chris. Alicia stares at him, she brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes for confirmation. He nods.
Alicia’s lip curls. “Chris, why don’t you go look for Travis?” She says without tearing her gaze from Nick.
“We need to stick together; just because Strand’s throwing it in doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Right, Nick?”
Nick nods firmly. “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
“Right.” Alicia repeats, turning to Chris with a small smile. He opens his mouth, looking in between them, and shuts it. He flips his hood over the back of his head and shoves his hands into his pockets, walking off with a muttered “Whatever you say.”
Alicia watches him go for a split second, and then immediately turns upon Nick. “What? What is it?”
Nick eyes Chris’s back. “He looks awfully...cheery.”
“What?” Alicia whispers, fiercely. “Nick, Chris is about as cheery as someone who’s just oh I don’t know, lost their mom . Because their dad shot her.”
Nick winces. “Ah. You make a good point. But y’know, funny thing about that; Travis doesn’t seem too shaken up about having killed his wife.”
“We’ll have plenty of time to worry about Travis’s coping mechanisms later.” Alicia grabs at her brother’s jacket sleeve and pulls, dragging him to the nearest staircase. “For now, you were right, we gotta find mom.”
“‘You were right ’ ah, to hear those words again.” Nick says wistfully. Alicia shushes him, peeking her head around the corner of the tunnel leading downstairs. The only noise she can ascertain is a slight humming noise, but the engine’s almost as natural a sound as the lapping of waves at the hull. She holds her breath, and listens.
“Why are we sneaking?” Nick hisses. Alicia whips her head around to glare at him.
“Because I don’t trust anyone on this boat besides you. And mom.” She mulls that over. “And maybe Ofelia. In fact, yeah, I think she’s more reliable than you.”
“Ouch. That wounds me, but ‘tis a familiar stab.” Nick sighs.
“Good thing you heal quick, then.” And, after glancing behind them, Alicia heaves Nick down the stairs with her.
They tread lightly down the hallway, steps muted by carpet like the dampener of a piano. Alicia has to admit she doesn’t quite know why her suspicions have suddenly flared...or maybe she does.
Maybe it’s the whole, yeah, an assumedly harmless and charming radio personality turned out to be a pirate that’d been tracking her family since they departed from a burning Los Angeles with their tails between their legs.
From now on, Alicia resolved not to trust any broadcaster, no matter how silky smooth their voice may be. That means you, Ryan Seacrest, she thinks bitterly. But it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make.
Guess that’s a thought about sacrifice in the apocalypse; it’s true that loss is everywhere, in everything, so you might as well let yourself choose when .
Even when it’s freeing that weight in your heart, that ponderous stone, known as trust.
Alicia halts briefly, and tightens her grip on Nick’s jacket; the polyester is almost rubbery against her fingertips. Flashes of discarded bottles, of vomit staining into her shirt, hands curled within greasy locks held over a toilet bowl. I promise. I’m done. No more.
Alicia bites her tongue. Yeah. Distrust is something old-world Alicia should’ve managed to cling to.
She breathes in through her nostrils, breathes the past out through her mouth, and moves. Nick is silent beside her, except for the occasional sniffle, and they find themselves outside Madison’s room within seconds.
The door is ajar, and the sound of fabric hitting the wall comes from within. Packing noises.
Alicia pauses beside the door, and stands on her toes to look around Nick. Their eyes lock. He nods, and steps around her to enter the room. Alicia follows.
“Mom, where-” Nick begins, and halts immediately. Alicia runs into him almost comically, cursing as her nose flattens against his skull.
“Nick!” She hisses. He doesn’t move, except for a single arm raised parallel to the ground. He’s blocking her.
Alicia’s frowns, and moves to shove him aside, but he steps back, and his arm curls around Alicia’s stomach.
“Hey there.” Nick says, casually, but Alicia can feel his hand shaking against her ribcage. “Strand.”
Alicia freezes. Strand? What’s he doing in mom’s room?
“Nicholas.” Strand says amicably, something close to surprise tinging his voice. “And...is that Alicia, hiding behind you?”
Alicia swallows her protest at the word ‘hide’, managing to respond, “How’d you guess.”
“I’m very good at guessing.” Strand chuckles. “It’s an important skill to have, when you gamble as often as I do.”
“Really? Gotta say, you didn’t strike me much as the gambling type.” Nick says, and Alicia feels him pushing her back with an almost indiscernably small step.
“Well, to be fair...and I am. Fair, that is.” Strand says. He moves into Alicia’s eyesight; crimson fabric pooling from between his fingers. It’s a stark contrast against the monochrome of his suit, the beige of the sheets, like sepia in a noir film.
Alicia’s eyes widen, and she squints. A dress?
“Right now,” Strand continues, “Everything’s a gamble, a guess; life’s the wager, up in the air, and the world’s been turned on its axis.” He shifts his weight from foot to foot, raising the dress into the air to peer at it, light reflecting alongside the glimmering sheet like water off a poncho.
Alicia feels a spike of revulsion tremor through her stomach, and she allows Nick to push her ever further back; out of the corner of her eye, she sees the doorframe inches away.
“So, in this new, upside down world, I allow the seven of you...mm, poetic, isn’t it?” Strand grins at the nightgown, because of course, that’s what it is. He tosses it back onto the bed, and stuffs his hands into his pockets. “Seven. One for each of the oceans of the world.”
“Yeah, real Hemingway. Are you the old man?” Alicia retorts, and Nick’s hand clenches around her shirt. She pushes back, but not enough to move them forward.
“Perhaps. You must be the arctic ocean.” Strand laughs. “But North, or South? Your mother’s surely coveted the other.”
“Hey dude.” Nick cuts him off, and Alicia hears him swallow audibly. “Speakin of, uh, mom, you wouldn’t happen to know where she is? It’s just a bit creepy, you standing around her stuff like that.”
“Madison is fine. She’s upstairs arguing with Daniel about something or other.” Strand waves a dismissive hand. “I’m just doing my rounds before…”
His voice trails off, and he tilts his head to the side, as if contemplating the bed before him.
“Before the pirates find us.” Alicia finishes for him. Strand pauses, and turns around to face them. His expression, while no longer hidden by sunglasses, is no less enigmatic without them.
“Pirates? You must mean the ship following us. Rest assured, Alicia, they’ll be on us in less than an hour.”
“You’re awfully calm about that.” Nick says, cautiously. He eases his back against Alicia.
“And where are you going?” Strand asks suddenly, loudly, and Nick freezes. “Do you suddenly not trust me, Nicholas?”
“Quit calling him that,” Alicia snarls. Nick glances back at her with surprise. She moves past him, ignoring his protests.
“We have to do something.” She tells Strand, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“And what, exactly, would that be?”
“I don’t know! Something! Get on a life raft, or...arm ourselves. You’ve got guns, right?”
Strand looks at her, and bursts out laughing. “Guns? On a yacht ? I know living in the US might have accustomed you to pistols pouring out of your cheerios every morning, but I have class, girl. Daniel, on the other hand...”
“Alicia,” Nick whispers urgently, stepping beside her. “We should go find mom.”
Alicia hesitates, biting her lip. She turns back to Strand. “So you’re just going to walk around the boat until they get us?”
Strand doesn’t answer immediately. It’s Nick’s turn to manhandle Alicia; he grabs the back of her shirt and pulls, just hard enough to make her stagger. “Alicia, come on , we’ll see him later. Mom’s probably losing her mind.”
Alicia stiffens. “Fine. But you should come upstairs; if we’re going to plan something, it should be as a group.”
Strand’s smile widens. “And what makes you think I don’t already have a plan?”
Alicia stares at him dumbly.
“Let’s go , Alicia.” Nick says forcefully, and tugs her out of the room. Alicia follows, mind racing to comprehend the odd glint in Strand’s eyes.
“Nick, something’s wrong.” She says, automatically, as he pulls her down the hallway and towards that familiar staircase.
“Yeah.” Nick agrees. Alicia looks at her brother as he leads, profile darkened by the dimness of the lights.
The strangest bitterness, a heavy sort of despair that seizes your heart when you offhandedly glance into the mirror, the reflection peppered with smudges and filth, and you lock eyes with yourself.
And suddenly the world shifts and you’re no longer there, really, sort of detached from the pull of gravity, but that image in the mirror stares at you still.
Alicia feels this all at once, and her throat closes with the overwhelming weight pounding in her chest.
“Everything’s wrong.” She says, in disbelief.
Nick doesn’t respond to that, and walks faster.