The girl looks furious, and I can't say I blame her. Her townsfolk are ignoring her, treating her like she's already dead - I've seen it before, a hundred times. She spits at them, holding back tears, and turns her back on them. It's a shame; I'm not looking for a girl with spirit. I look behind me, at the decaying condos from before the crash that loom over the road out of the village like dead trees. Mike spots me from his sniper's perch on the roof of one and I signal to him to say we're not meeting any resistance. Carl tightens his grip on the girl and we head back towards the wastes.
She's beautiful, hardly has any BioTox scarring at all. The rest of the village looked good too, but they showed some signs of radiation or something; most of them were bald and missing teeth. This girl must have been their pride and joy, but when it came down to giving up her or giving up their drinking water they knew which to pick. Of course I'll be back for the water in a month anyway. She tried to tell them that, tried to get them to fight back because she's smart enough to know that we'll just keep coming. I wasn't looking for a smart girl either. Still, this kills two birds with one stone. We get some much-needed companionship and take the voice of resistance out of the picture.
Mike joins up with us after watching the sheep go back into their houses, but he leaves the rifle out as we walk in case any Tox-Hounds come after us. He's leering at the girl so badly that he probably wouldn't see one until it was biting his leg, of course.
"Hey sweetheart, are you looking forward to being with a real man? One who still has his hair?"
She ignores him, just keeps walking forward. Mike is trying to rile her up, but she really should be grateful. Carl caught some sort of virus that gave his skin a grey tint and I've got a scaly patch of BioTox scarring on one cheek, but we're actually pretty attractive guys. "Answer the man, sugar."
She stops dead, and looks at Mike. "I would sooner sleep with a Tox-covered cactus, you disgusting bag of shit."
The back of my hand catches her off-guard, and she stumbles backwards. Carl lets her fall before hauling her up again by her hair - I know it hurts her but she manages to just make a little squeak rather than screaming outright. There's a cut across her face from my ring, and somehow that turns me on a little. "We own you now, sugar. You will speak to your masters with respect."
She feels the cut, looks at the drop of blood it leaves on her hand. "You'll regret that when my friend gets here."
A weak bluff. If she had any friends they would have argued for her back at the village.
We're nearly out of the ruins of the town and onto open land, which means less chance of feral cats for dinner. The girl has gotten quiet, and I want to think she's given up but I know she's too stubborn for that; I'll break her after a few weeks in the cage, but not from one little hit. As if on cue, she throws her head back and yells at the top of her lungs.
"BENNY! BENNY, SAVE ME!" I'm sure it's just a lame attempt at making a distraction, but then time seems to slow down as the wall of a house on the hill above us explodes outward. Something hideous, some horrible nightmare shape comes flying out - eight feet tall and covered from head to toe in BioTox, the worst I've ever seen. Whatever this thing is, there's no way it should be alive. It's black all over, like a giant living avalanche of coal. Mike is raising his rifle but the thing moves so fast that he can't aim; it leaps through the air and lands with Mike's face in the palm of its hand, then uses the other arm to punch Carl so hard he lifts up off the ground and lands ten feet away. I've got my knife in my hand somehow and I swing, a perfect shot. He's distracted, wide open, and the blade slams into his neck... but it only penetrates a half-inch into that twisted black flesh before catching on something hard and snapping off at the base.
Just like that time returns to normal. The thing glances at me, holding my worthless handle, then turns towards the girl and looks down at his feet. The blade of my knife drops from his neck onto the ground, and I'm not sure he even knew it was there. He seems equally oblivious to mike's frantic clawing at the hand that's smothering him, or the gurgling sounds coming from what used to be Carl's face.
"Trinka?" He whispers, loud as thunder, "Momma said I shouldn't hit people."
"Oh, honey. You didn't do anything wrong. Your momma meant real people, like you and me. These aren't people; they're parasites. Monsters. Don't worry Benny - we're going to go off together, just the two of us, and maybe go live at the ocean. Would you like that?"
He nods, and she hugs him - as much of him as she can reach. It's like they've forgotten I'm here. Mike isn't struggling anymore, and I can't hear Carl breathing, and I know if I make the wrong choice I'm dead. Stay, and beg for forgiveness? Or run, and hope they let me go now that the girl is safe? Just then he lifts up her face with a finger under her chin and stares at the cut. There's a horrifying ripple of muscles as he turns and whispers something to me in that voice of doom: "You hurt Trinka."
I turn to run, and get almost twenty feet before Mike's body slams into me and breaks my spine.