«I think you did the right choice. You are quite lucky you have the chance to be one of us now.»
«Am I?» I ask timidly.
«What I can offer you, cannot be found in any other place on earth at the moment. And neither it will be for a very, very long time.»
He extended his hand, offering me a glass of whisky as he approached me with a smile on his face. General Cooper, leader of the Gunners and sole operator of the last machine force, was standing tall in front of me as he unbuttoned the top part of his black shirt. He had a strong body structure, almost twice the size of mine, and was still wearing his green military jacket with the numerous medals and awards glued all over it.
«We possess machines, we possess food, drink and even…» he pinpointed all around him «electricity. None of which can be found anywhere else.»
He turned his back against me as he stood a few feet away, letting me watch him from the little table I was standing on, under the mirror.
«90% of the planet has vanished, shrilled into pieces just within a few days. I lost people that I loved and I know you did too, as everybody else.» He looked down as he pressured my two arms. «But we need to stay strong Zoey for the good of humanity. We need to put our best face forward and try our best, to keep the light burning.»
He curled his hand into a fist before he started walking back and forth again. I kept holding my eyes straight on him.
«What we do at the moment is not out of an idea or a thought experiment,» he said as he trimmed his fingers in front of his forehead. «We do it because we have to. It’s necessity and obligation that drives our actions. Love is controlling our hands to act in ways that serve humanity the best. And right now we need to make sure we keep everything under control. We would love to allow anyone access to our resources but that would lead to disaster and nothing else. Sometimes you just have to do the hard thing in order for something better to come forth. Do you understand my dear?» he asked as he tapped my cheek downwards, with the outer part of his hand.
«Of course» I said nodding my head as I held his hand tenderly.
«And that’s why what you have here is so important,» he said touching my belly. «Female fertility is rare and precious. Women’s reproductive system got hit in the worst possible way by this monstrous virus. What you bring to the table..» he ducked down holding my belly with both of his hands. «..is a pure miracle. A beautiful, delicate, magnificent working womb that can produce the next generation of people, we so desperately need.» he hugged tightly my waste tieing his hands all around me.
«My dear, this is a tremendous opportunity for us and our future.» he raised up and stood right in front of me looking deeply into my eyes. «Will you take it?»
And his lips touched mine as he kissed me passionately for a mere few seconds. All holding nicely and smoothly, before a sharp blade penetrated the lower part of his jaw, entering all over into his head and delivering a beautiful and magnificent death.
He started choking on his own blood that was pouring all over the carpet as if the most resourceful fountain. And the blood flooded down on his lungs making him unable to breathe or speak, compounding his pain even further. A well-deserved outcome for a well-deserved bastard. One I will treasure for a long time to come marking the end of my own worst enemy.
– 2 Months Earlier –
I’m walking down the deserted roads as the sun is hovering over my head with a dazzling heat. All around me are ruins and detriments of old houses, empty of life, or any sign of activity. Vacated Streets for fear of getting mugged from people starving to death. Buildings ripped apart and destroyed in search of the last traces of food. Everything got blasted away once the virus made its appearance and killed 90% of the population. Were you to assume, that the remaining 10% got together united to confront the situation you would be highly mistaken. Gangs erupted all around like slept volcanos trying to get control of whatever had remained. Whoever got his hands on the machines had control of resources and whoever had resources had power over everyone else. Food, water, electricity, all remained under the rein of Gunners, a single gang that would force everybody else to fight for survival under the most minimal of conditions.
Once they got their hands on the weapons, they got into everybody’s house and took whatever food left-overs had remained, condemning everyone to death. My parents were part of the people that died out of starvation, as they lost everything they owned within the blast of a night. They entered the house of two old people holding machine guns. Men, young men, powerful still, with their straight mission to get their hands on anything they could find no matter the cost. And so they did, following the principles of their group, as they gathered anything of value, under their little zone around the central Aizel tower. The one place they use to safeguard everything and that still holds the last signs of civilization. And thus my mission is clear. Get what they stole from us back to the people and allow humanity to start growing again. If there is any chance for recovery, we have no option but to fight for it united.
I’m walking down the street as I follow the compass at a 13 degrees angle North-East. This is the place I grew up in and filled my childhood memories as I explored its corners and tasted its fruits. Now there is nothing left other than rocks and dust compacted under a soulless shell I can barely recognize. But what I’m looking for can give hope to an otherwise hopeless situation and can be found in the most unexpected place of all.
Right passed my old house, there is a warehouse my father used to keep together with our little farm right about 12 miles from here. Probably destroyed to its fullest, this little wooden structure of about 50 square feet, was filled with farm tools and equipment that would make it the easiest target for everyone to intrude and loot as he pleased. But what they don’t know is that there is a hidden hatch 2 meters under the ground containing a little box of what my father used to call ‘the safety casket’. It contains a couple of guns, bullets, and knives. And is the last hope I have to get my revenge for all that I know of.
As I reach the end of the road I look ahead on the extended big landscape of empty land and grass. At the end distance of about two miles, stands a low-fenced area with the wooden building in the middle.
«Glad this is still alive» I whisper as I move along to it. I jump over the barrier careful not to awake any possible intruders that might be in there already. I duck my head down to the level of the grass, and I move closer to the building.
Peeking from the window I see the interior swept off and deserted as if it was used and abandoned a long time ago. It seems safe with no sign of human interference or footprints, so I walk inside slowly and steadily as the wooden floor makes a squicky noise. I still see some of the old stuff my father used to have, dropped down to the ground as if a storm had passed right through it. A metal crowbar, a broken shovel, the little table, and chairs, broken to pieces lying scattered all around. I move along to the opposite side of it where there is a second door broken at its whole upper part. The wind blows strong and whistles passing through it, as it flusters my hair around stepping out of the door. Two meters away from the building, in what was supposed to be a uniform ground with no sign of discrepancy, is the little hatch, but as I duck down what I notice catch me with full surprise. The hatch has been ripped off already and there is nothing left inside for what I am looking for.
«Impossible. How did they find it?» I utter as I hit my hand to the ground.
«Are you looking for these, honey?»
I turn around and I see a guy, holding the gun with a smug smile on his face. On his left hand, he is holding another equipment that I’m not quite sure what its purpose is.
«Metal detector…in case you are wondering. This baby can spot a ring from a mile away…»
«Interesting..» I say as I raise up from the ground. «Now if you would be kind enough to hand it over to me, I would be on my way in no time and nobody gets hurt,» I say as I step forward a bit.
«Nice one pretty.» he smiles. «But I don’t think it works that way. What would you do with it anyway?»
«I would kill Cooper and give all the resources back to the people.»
«Ha! Nice one. I think can be quite funny if you want to.»
«Am I?» I say as I swirl my waste around, snap off the little blade from my the side of my hand, and dash it over to his right hand as I run over and kick him on the head. I pick the gun that fell in the sides of him and make sure he has no other way to attack me.
«Where is the rest of it?» I ask as he grabs his arm in pain, but he is not responding. «Oh come on this is only a scratch. Don’t act like a baby.»
«It’s under the rocks right next to you.» He pointed at the little bump structure on the side. «Why did you do that for? I wasn’t going to hurt you,» he said as I picked the rest of it and put it under my belt.
«I know. That’s why you only have a scratch.»
«Nice one.» he giggles as raises up.
I start picking up all the tools one by one and placing it carefully under my clothes as I get ready to leave.
«Hey, you are going to Waelder town aren’t you? I bet you should be since this is where Cooper is,» he says with his mouth hanging as if he had a realization.
“Yeah, so what?”
«Let me come with you,» he says with a blank face.
«Ahh, I’m not sure if that is a good idea. I don’t want any liabilities on my back.»
«Hey, no liabilities there whatsoever. Two is better than one. I was planning to go there anyway and you need someone to keep your back.» He opens his palms up as he raised his arms. «What do you say?»
«I can get you till next town at Blackrock. But from then on, you are on your own.» I say as I sneak the knife back to its place…
Blackrock is over 100 miles away, which translates to 2-3 days on foot based on the speed we are heading on. 100 miles of danger and threats that could come out of nowhere and blast on your head before realizing a thing. Gangs, thieves, even gunners themselves as they march around with their machine-guns strapped on their chest. Any wrong encounter could be the last you get in this life. And that is assuming you manage to survive hunger in the first place. But it’s a good thing I got Sam on my side. He can’t offer much on protection or fighting power, but he is a funny guy at times, and we can keep shifts at night as we alternate our sleep. Quite the luxury, given the situation at hand…
«I’m telling you the Aizel tower is extended well above the rest of the city, let alone all the patrols in the area. They will know you are coming before you even step your foot in the town.»
It’s already the second day we go without food and we are gonna have to allocate some time hunting for resources if we are to survive. Any living animal would suffice for that matter, with rats, snakes, and birds to be the standard part of our menu.
«Gunners have at least a dozen of artillery vehicles and machine guns at their disposal. Not to mention that the whole area is wired with cameras and sensor traps. You know how these work right? They are like these little red lights that are invisible to the human eye and pass right a couple of inches lower than your knee. Make the mistake to pass one without paying attention and.. boom! you’re blown out to pieces scattered all around.»
We are still in the middle of nowhere and I see the road immersing right through the mountains in what seems to be the only way to reach the other side. Once you find yourself inside you could easily get into little traps that aim to steal anything you got or use you any way they like. And I’m not sure I like any of these prospects.
«Hey look all I’m saying is that we…we should both go to Waelder together, and try to set a coordinated plan as a team. Am I the only one that thinks this is a great team here? We can do so many great things together.»
«Not gonna happen Sam.»
He stands behind looking at me as I keep walking.
«Could you just stop being so selfish for just a few minutes? You know…that would be such a great thing for a change.»
I turn around as I keep walking backward. «If you don’t like it, here is the way buddy. No one is holding you.»
«Fine! I don’t need you. I’ll make it on my own.» He utters as I continue on my path alone. For all the little chit chat on the way, having a baby to watch over, is a big price to pay.
The mountains were extending on the sides creating a little narrow passage through which you could pass. Trees, rocks, an uneven ground filled with hills and turns. This was the perfect place for anyone that was willing to set a trap to a passerby. But if this is the only way to reach my destination, I have no choice but to take the risk. There still remains a full day of traveling through all this and I need to make it fast if I’m to survive the journey in one piece. My steps are thoughtful and considerate as any turn could reveal undesired company. I’m halfway through the passage and I stumble upon a low-level blockage of big rocks and detriments compacted together in a mash. Whoever made it wanted to give the impression of a random street abnormality but he evidently did a lousy job. The road is carefully arranged to delay any visitors off their course, which means they have people already behind me aiming at me right at this moment. I turn back and look around as I duck down with my sword in front of me.
«Who is there», I yell but no reaction is coming my way. I’m starting to back away step by step reaching the blockage which I jump over as fast as I can and start running.
«If they want to get me at least they will have to strive for it» I whisper.
But then I feel a terrible pain on my feet that stumbles on a rope, carefully placed at a height to throw you down from your steps.
“The bastards were counting on it, how foolish not to pay attention,” I say to myself. I turn around trying to raise up again but I feel a metal bat hitting in on my face, throwing me back on the ground unconscious. And everything blacks out instantaneously.
My hands are tied over a wooden cross. I can’t move my feet or my body at all and I can feel the blood that has gathered around on my face from the blow and create a crust. It must have been a couple of hours already since the blast as I see the sun already lowered over the horizon and my body feels rusty from the immobility. My stuff are all missing, together with my secret blades and knives that I had hidden in my pockets, yet I see no one around me at the moment.
«Look who is awaken at last.» I hear a voice from my sides approaching me. «Guys, the little bird is back.»
I see 3 more guys raising from their posts around the rocks and coming towards my way while the guy from behind appears in front of me.
«I see you had some magnificent weaponry there. What were you planning to do with it, honey? You wouldn’t hurt anyone would you?»
The guys start laughing as they approach even further. They are all filled in mud and ragged clothes and somehow I get the feeling they have been doing this for a while. This is one of those spider gangs that have found themselves a little niche through the passage and catch on whatever passes around. They will rip you from all your clothes and leave you in a corner to die with no remorse if that would suit the situation at hand.
«We even found these little babies over here..» he pulls the two guns of mine out as he admires them all around.
«Now where did you found those, sweety? Why don’t you let me know and maybe we’ll make this less painful.»
He scratched my face with his knife as he listened to the little scratchy noise of the blade against the crust.
«They sell some down the road if you walk that way» I respond.
«Oh..that’s funny now. You can laugh all you want while you can, honey. But I’m afraid it won’t last very long.» he scrutinizes me from head to tow. «I would actually get it out of you myself but unfortunately you have a special destination out of our own..» he glances back to his troop. «jurisdiction if you know what I mean.». they start laughing again before he focuses back at me.
«You see first we were about to handle it on our own. Such a pretty lady, such a nice face…it would be fun to keep you around here» he raised my hair with his blade. «But then we figured, Gunners are actually paying a heavy deck for any fertile female we grand to them.» he approached his face even closer, feeling his breath all over my neck.
«And from what I can judge, and damn a good judger I am, this seems like a good working pussy to me.» he grabbed me from there under as he straightened his face.
«And in that case Gunners it is. You get to enjoy the troops, having your fun, while we sit here with all the money.» Another burst of laughter.
«What makes you think gunners are gonna pay you for it?» I ask, cutting them off from their good time.
«They will, because it’s part of the deal you little foolish girl. Are you questioning this?»
«They are gonna kill you on the spot and bury you on the ground within a few minutes once they find you.»
«Oh, now I wouldn’t go so far there. I think you are seeking ways out of this, aren’t you? But let me just get this straight for you darling. No matter who gets you, it won’t be the best thing that happened to you, either way.» he said as he leaned on the top of his leg.
If they have sent for them they should be here just within half an hour at most. That gives little time for any real plan at all. But then I see a rock coming from above hitting the guy in front of me in the head throwing him on top of me. I hear screams and sword fights but I can’t see anything of what is going on. I try to peek from under the body that is blanketing me but all I see is the feet of a fifth man, fighting against the rest of them till they all fall on the ground.
He starts approaching me with slow and steady steps and grabs the man from his back turning him over and letting me finally breathe.
«Sam?» I ask in total bewilderment as I see him right across me with a big smirk on his face.
«I thought you might need some help and decided to come back. Apparently, I wasn’t mistaken at all from what I see..»
Damn me, I wouldn’t believe it in a thousand years. «But how did you find me? Hurry up gunners could be here any minute now.» I said as he started untying the ropes from my left hand.
«But it was the footprints of course,» he said proudly. «They were cut off sharply, in the little road and I knew something was going on.»
But then the guy fallen on my side rose up and with a quick jab, he wounded Sam on his left arm. They started fighting as I was trying to unleash my second hand but the ropes were tightly bonded giving me a hard time. I picked a piss of glass below my feet and cut it off wit ha single thrush. It took a single kick for the last guy to get back on the ground, and we got back in the road again with our full artillery restored.
For the rest of the day, we moved in a hurry trying to take advantage of the few hours we had left before the night. Gunner patrols should be swirling the whole area already by now and we should find shelter if we were to hide from them. They got their information already and they knew about my existence, which meant they would do anything to find me. Plus I could already listen to Sam’s buzzing as he was heavily breathing holding his wounded arm.
«We got to stop here,» I said snappily.
«What? No, we need to keep moving. We have at least a couple more hours of good sunshine.»
«I think it’s fine for today. This place seems safe enough for the night, plus.. we could use some rest.» I said as I pointed behind a tree formation that could provide coverage from any unexpected passerby.
«Rest? What are you talking about? We could keep it up for a little bit more. Come on, don’t you tell me you are so tired already.»
I smiled as I approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. «Sam, we covered a good ground for the day and I think it would be good for both of us. Now, why don’t you gather some wood for the fire while I go find dinner.» I said as I passed by him.
The sun was half-hidden over the horizon splitting the landscape to a deep red tone on the sky and a dark black one on the ground. The whole area was emptied leaving only trees and bushes in an otherwise dry area. Animals were quite rare to find, yet I was sure this I had located the perfect nest.
I lowered down to the ground being almost invisible as I started crawling gradually and methodically towards them. The rubbing of my body to the pebbles would produce a bubbly noise as if little small bursts would erupt below me and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster as the adrenaline increased inside me. In my right hand, I was holding one of the darts I had made straight out of an oak tree, carving its head to a pointed edge that could penetrate even the toughest surface if thrown in the right way.
I raised my hand on my back as I slowly elevated my torso and I threw it off with all my power getting right through the rabbit’s neck. Finally, we were about to get some decent food for a change.
Meat leftovers had been stuck above the quenched fire as I was ducked over’s Sam’s shoulder trying to close off his wound with some stitches. It was quite widely spread out, ranging almost to the whole shoulder but luckily the knife hadn’t penetrated too deep.
«Ah! Ah! Ah! That hurt.» he uttered to me.
«I’m not sure how sorry you are, you seem to enjoy me having knife wounds.»
I took a small metal tied with little fabric and started tying it all together.
«You know my father used to be a doctor himself. He would take care of wounds like that for all the kids of the neighborhood even after he retired. He was so in love with helping others. Obsessed even that he would accept patients for free.» he started playing with a rock in his hand. «When the virus got out he was the first to put himself out there trying to examine as many people as he could. He would wear nothing but a mask for christ’s sake! He would run experiments night and day trying to find a cure.»
He smiled at me momentarily as I passed another twitch in his wound. «And thus he was one of the first people to catch the virus themselves. We would always yell to him to be careful but he just wouldn’t listen.» he clenched his hand in his mouth as his eyes got tearful.
«He was a great man…» I said as I touched his hand. «And I’m sure he would be very proud of you.»
He passed his hand towards my hair as he tapped on the side of them.
«And I’m sure yours would be proud of you too.»
He came closer to me as he gently touched my cheek and kissed me. It was the warmest night I had for a long time.
The next morning we started moving early on, trying to catch the day heads on. According to my calculations, we should be at Waelder city around mid-afternoon and it would be wise to make sure we settle there in before night. The road was long and deserted. The air filled with the dusty smell raised from the strong wind and we were both very tired and devastated after marching the third day of a very long journey.
«I have the perfect plan on how we can get into the city without drawing any attention at all.»
«No, smartass, not wearing masks.» he grinned, «Scarfs!» he pointed at two pieces of cloth he had under his jacket. «We can wear them under our nose and no one will be able to recognize us at all.»
«Not bad..» I responded
«Hell, I know it’s not bad. It’s great actually. I thought all of it through and…» A sudden blast sound made its way as an arrow got through Sam’s shoulder kneeling him on the ground.
«Sam!» I yelled, «get down, it’s the gunners.» I rushed over to him as I saw a tricycle bike with 3 men approaching us. It would be close to impossible to get around them in such an open field.
«Get rid of the guy. We need the girl alive.» said the guy on the back seat. I put my gun out and started shooting but a sniper hit the gun right through my hand as they approached me.
«How the heck did they get a sniper, damn it,» I uttered.
A man pointed his gun at me stopping me from making any move.
«I wouldn’t make any move if I were you.» he said.
But I wasn’t planning to move anyway. Sam was hurt a few feet away from us and I didn’t want to draw any attention to the fact.
«Easy now,» He said as he tied my hands behind my back and moved me towards the vehicle. «Everything is gonna be fine now.»
Closing in, to the rest, I realized that one of them was the guy that had tied me in the cross 2 days ago. The bastard came all the way down here for it. I looked at him with disgust as he grew a big smile on his face.
«Remember me, honey?» he said extending his tongue outwards for a bit. «Guys, You got what you wanted, so I consider this part of the deal done.»
«That’s exactly right Dewey. You did your part fine. We don’t need anything more from you.» he pointed the gun right at him and shoot him at the face before he got the chance to plead for his life.
«Now that got cleared quite nicely don’t you think?» he said glancing at me.
But then something completely unexpected happened. Sam jumped out of nowhere and hit the guy next to me on the head throwing him on the ground.
«Sam no!» I yelled.
He rushed towards the third guy but before he got into him, the driver pulled a gun out and shot him on the chest. Using the blades from the fallen guy in front of me, I cut out the rope and threw a knife right in his forehead. I stubbed the second knife, into the fallen guy’s chest making sure he was dead and rushed towards Sam.
«Sam..Sam..you are going to be alright honey. I promise you.» I said as my eyes got tearful.
«You don’t have to worry baby,» he said with a crispy voice. «You do what you have to do now. I know you’ll make it» he whispered as his eyes froze, robbed from their life.
I took his body into the car and drove for a few miles away finding a distant area to make his grave. Suddenly, there was one more reason for why they had to pay. And I would make sure with everything I got that they would.
In the following month, I managed to assemble more members to take back control from the gunners. Choosing them one by one I got people that didn’t belong to any of the existing gangs and had no other goal in participating other than fixing the situation. We set out a plan and we executed it to the letter. Once I killed Cooper, I opened the gates to the tower for the rest to invade inside and take control of their shelter. We succumbed every single member of the gunners and eventually, we started building a new city from scratch. Using whatever resources we had available and redistributing everything to the people. And a new hope started generating again that maybe this way we could get through it and keep humanity alive. After all, this isn’t just for me anymore but for the baby, I am carrying inside my belly as well. The baby I am expecting in a few months from now…0