Eventually we figured out that the scabby little mole people actually were speaking English, or at least some patois with a lot of English in it. They were just speaking so fast and with such poor diction it was hard to understand them. It seemed like they were shouting “hooah!” like in that crappy movie where Al Pacino pretends to be blind but they were saying “who are you” or something along those lines. Once we figured that out, we were kind of able to communicate with them. Mostly.
They were traders. Or scavengers maybe. Actually I guess they were both, first they scavenge then they trade. They were wary of our guns but they didn’t seem to be afraid of them. I think maybe most of their trades take place at gunpoint. Or clubpoint or whatever since they didn’t seem to have any firearms. At one point I could tell they were making fun of the way we talked. I would have been offended if they weren’t such gross monsters that it was impossible to care about their opinion.
When I went up to look at their junk wagon, they kept trying to sidle beside me like one of those pervs that rubs up against you on the bus. I repeatedly had to tell them to stay in front of me, I thought I was going to have to shoot one of them to back them off. Or you know, not do it myself, but order Martialla to shoot one of them. Even though they were more varmint than man, I’m not sure I could have pulled the trigger unless they were actually attacking me.
It was definitely a waste of time. When I say that they had a junk wagon, I mean that literally. I don’t mean junk as in stuff, I mean junk as in literal garbage. There was some scrap metal which I guess has value but honestly it looked like a mobile landfill. I’m surprised there wasn’t a flock of seagulls circling it and screaming. The wagon was huge, it was bigger than a haywagon like back on the farm and it was being pulled by a comically tiny motorcycle. It looked like a minibike, honest to God.
The only thing they had that looked worth anything was food. Real food. Tomatoes, grapes, almonds, walnuts, all kinds of stuff. It looked half the size and twice as ugly as what I buy at the grocery store but it seemed healthsome enough. My mouth started watering in that gross way where it makes you feel like you might yak – that’s when you know it’s been too long since you’ve eaten. The problem was what to give them. There are probably all sorts of things with good trade value in the cryo-facility but it’s also best to keep that stuff undercover right? Plus we don’t know the relative worth of anything. If the world is really crunked and no one can manufacture anything anymore, that makes paper rare for sure, but is it valuable?
I asked Martialla what else was valuable in Waterworld besides dirt and she gave me that look she gives when I treat movies like they have real information. What the hell does she want from me? I’ve never haggled with post-apocalyptic badger people before. Where else am I supposed to draw information from other than movies? There’s no way to have any practical experience here lady.
She told me seventeen times not to trade away my gun. Which is insulting. I’m not a moron. Although strangely they didn’t seem interested in them. Maybe in this world no one would ever give up a weapon so they didn’t even consider it? They also didn’t seem interested in us, you know, as women. Not that I would have offered or agreed anyway, but that also seemed odd. They’re ugly as sin so maybe that’s what they like?
In the end, we traded them a couple of Applied Cryogenics West jumpsuits for assorted produce and some stacks of crud they called a word that sounded like a racial slur and Martialla called “lock-up loaf” because it’s what they give to prisoners for meals as a form of punishment when they assault a guard – at least when the Supreme Court lets them. Not anymore though, since I get the feeling there is no penal system nor Supreme Court anymore. The three stooges were pretty happy with the jumpsuits so we probably got ripped off.
The foodwad was gross but it was the only thing I could eat. All those nice juicy fruits and veggies tasted like the floor of a public restroom to me. Martialla was able to choke it down but I couldn’t force myself to swallow that nasty crap.
We tried to ask them what happened to the world but they didn’t understand the question no matter how we tried to ask it. Or we didn’t understand the answer. Maybe both. I asked them if someone dropped the bomb and I eventually realized their jabbering was them telling me where to go to get a bomb. I swear to god it sounded like they said to get on the 101 at one point. We asked them where people live and they talked a mile a minute and gestured all over the place, none of which made any sense to us. But I suppose that means there are other people around.
Martialla asked them what they used as fuel. After much “who’s on first” bullshit we realized their answer was “fuel”. She asked if she could look at their bike and they got real squirrely about that. Up until that point I got the feeling they would have hung around and chattered at us all day, but once Martialla showed interest in the bike, they got agitated and not long after that they cleared out. They wouldn’t even start up their machine until we were down the ramp below their sightline – as if starting up a dirtbike was magic that you could only replicate by watching it happen.
Even though the cryo-place seems like a fortress, the front doors are just glass. We dragged some chairs out into the hallway from the breakroom so we could watch to see if they came back while we enjoyed our feast of rotten fruit and prison sludge.
I sighed as I put my feet up on a chair “So one of us needs to be on watch here all the time probably?”
Martialla popped a tomato in her gaping maw and nodded “We should have been doing that before, that was stupid, they could have walked right in on us.”
I shook my head “I don’t see how you can eat that. What’s wrong with it?”
She shrugged “Bad soil? Maybe it’s irradiated and I’ll wake up with a bunch of tumors. Maybe this is just what food tastes like when you don’t have pesticides and herbicides and fertilizer and genetically modified bean sprouts. Who knows?”
“How do you know it’s safe?”
She gave me a cool look “I don’t, but if this is what food is like now, it doesn’t much matter does it? We only have so many high fructose corn syrup bars and once they’re out, this is all there is. If we can’t eat this food safely we’re dead either way.”
My face fell “Jesus Martialla.”
She held up a nut appraisingly “Freaking tell me about it.”