The thing that attacked Paul had come out of the ground like a rabid wombat. It was real weird looking and I say that having seen many real weird animals lately. It was flat and wide like a shell-less turtle but it was a mammal FOR SURE. Its mouth/head/snout thing was shaped like a massive shovel, you know one of those shovel with shark teeth. Martialla said that the teeth were like that of some stupid extinct marsupial. She was really enamored with those teeth for some reason. Like she knows anything about animal teeth.
Whatever the thing was what it wasn’t was very tough, it died after Martialla only shot it once like a loser. But it did manage to bite Paul’s kneecap off so I give it points there. That’s what it looked like to me anyway, but Paul was still able to walk around so there must be some kneecap left in there. I feel that genetic engineering had to have existed in the 2030s because there is something abnormal going on with Paul physiologically. Nobody normal can take the punishment he does and walk it off. Limp it off, but still.
“Why didn’t you yell for help Paul?” I asked reasonably.
He thought for a moment and then said that it didn’t occur to him. I suppose that makes sense. If you’ve been alone for most of your life you’d want to keep quite even when you’re being mauled to death. If you scream out for help the only thing that’s going to happen is another critter hears you and shows up to attack your spleen.
The creature didn’t get into or onto or around our stolen land whaler vehicle but it still managed to break down in all the excitement Kelly Petillo style. Martialla and I kept watch for more turtle-badgers and whatnot while the Lady Jesuses tried to make repairs and Paul laid down on the roof like Snoopy on top of his doghouse. Remember that Peanut’s comic where Snoopy has one of his legs mangled by a monster and he has to recuperate? It was like that. Woodstock brought him Flintstone chewable morphine for the pain. I remember.
I decided the best way to keep watch was to lie down and close my eyes for a moment “So what happens if we miss the appointed rendezvous with Lucien?”
I could hear Martialla’s scrawny chicken neck creaking as she scanned the area “I told him that if didn’t show up that meant we were dead and he was to go back and get his men out of all this mess, head south like we were going to before you wanted to start a war and see if there’s any civilization left. So probably he would come looking for us at great personal risk with little to no chance of success.”
I nodded absently “Dudley Do-Right stops to help. You’d think the military would beat that out of people.
“He was in the Canadian military, vigilamus pro te.”
“And an in vino vertias to you.” I opened one eye to peer at her “Did you ever kill anyone, you know, before?”
After a moment she looked down at me “Is that a serious question?” I nodded and she scoffed slightly “No, of course not, when would I have killed anyone in the old world Ela? What kind of question is that?”
“You were in the military” I pointed our reasonably “Plus you murdered that union guy you were always beefing with. And you were an assassin when you were overseas right?”
She sighed “Yes Ela, I was an assassin for the US government, just like in the movies.”
I closed my eye again “What did you do over there? There’s no harm in telling me now is there? You can’t really have been a secretary. Were you a spy?”
It was a moment before she answered again “I guess you’re right, there’s no one left alive who cares. No, I wasn’t a spy, I just got stuff for operatives, spies if you want. They called me a procurement agent I think but I was more like a quartermaster, I didn’t make fake IDs or anything cool, I just kept track of guns and laptops and bought furniture for safe houses, stuff like that.”
I opened my eyes in surprise “You worked for the CIA? You just got a lot cooler.”
She shook her head “No, it’s not like that. The CIA is . . . different. I worked for a guy who was told not to do things by his superiors, with the understanding that he was supposed to do them, but that if he gets caught doing them he would be charged with treason.”
My eyes widened a little more “So you were black ops? That’s too cool for you.”
“I mean, technically yes, but as you say it wasn’t that cool. I was like an officer manager only sometimes I ordered a case of stolen glocks instead of lamps. Why are you asking me about this?”
I thought about saying something flippant for a moment “You seem to be okay, not okay okay, but mostly okay with . . . the however many people you’ve killed since we crawled out of those tubes.”
She pointed “You crawled out, I was pulled out. By you.”
I waved her off “Whatever, I just assumed that since you were okay with it maybe you had killed people before. That you knew the trick to being okay with it. To not having nightmares and wondering . . . you know, if your life was really more valuable than theirs. Or if there really is a hell even though it makes no sense and maybe you’re going to go there. Just . . . wondering about that sort of stuff.” I cleared my throat, I wasn’t choking back tears at all “You know, generally.”
She shook her head slowly “No Ela, I never killed anyone in our old lives.”
I nodded back to her “Okay . . . . that’s what I figured . . . just uh, thought I’d ask.” I wiped at my eyes because of the grit in the air “I suppose you . . . don’t have any tricks then . . . not to be afraid all the time . . . you’re not trained, you’re just a woman, like me.”
She chuckled “Oh come on now Ela, there are no women like you, I wouldn’t dream of saying that. That would be like trying to outshine the noon sun with a penlight! You’re pretty, so very pretty, everyone says so. You have the voice of an angel, the ass of a Greek goddess, one of the good ones not one of the weird animal ones, you can sing, you can dance, you can act, you have eyes that you can lose a whole afternoon in. You’re the total package Ela, a perfect ten, and you want to know why you were saved when everyone else died? Because what kind of a world would it be without you?! Not one I want to live in I can assure you of that. Plus, check this out, dealing with death has been the warrior’s dilemma since caveman times, but we’re girls Ela, we can’t be warriors. Everyone knows that. Our boobs get in the way and we have our periods all the time. Also we’re too emotional, we go nuts at the drop of a hat. The best we can be is schoolmarms and they don’t have to worry about death at all. For once the double standard works to our benefit.”
I sniffed because of all the pollen in the air “That is good to know.”
She dropped me a sassy wink “And, don’t tell Lucien or Paul this, I don’t want them to know because they can’t handle it, none of this is real anyway. This is all a simulation, we’re actually still in those tubes, we never woke up.”
“Like the Matrix?”
She shook her head “No, more like Total Recall.”
“I was supposed to be in that movie you know, Sharon Stone really screwed me on that one.”
She smiled “I never knew that, what happened?”
“Well, since you ask . . . .”