We went down into the fields and tried to talk to the bug farmers but they wouldn’t make a sound, not even to each other. They just stared at us. I think they were looking at us anyway, it’s hard to say with bug-eyes if they were looking at us or not. Up close they were even smaller than we thought, like just three feet high. And they were very slight as well. They kind of looked like kids only, you know, bugs. Bug kids.
We were resorting to bad mime (from Martialla: I’m great at miming, I took a movement class) and pointing when we noticed a trail of dust coming down one of the paths between fields. A fella rolled up on us atop a comically small scooter-type machine. It looked a lot like an old “motorcycle” I saw in a museum that was really just a bicycle with a tiny motor the size of a can of peaches on it. At the museum display there was a big blown up photo behind it of a lady in a huge old timey fluffy dress sitting on the thing sideways.
The guy sitting on it was less humorous all around. He was our height, which makes him a giant among men around here, and he was a big monger. He was decked out in standard Mad Max S&M marauder gear with a little bit of flair for individualization – a couple tongues nailed to his giant codpiece (it was so big it was almost a trout piece, ba-dum-dum). He was missing his right hand but that’s okay because he had a giant Jai-Alai killer hook strapped to that arm to make up for it. This whole look was “post-apocalyptic murderer” so I admit that I was a little thrown off when he spoke in the clearest and most intelligible English we’ve encountered so far.
“Can I help you ladies?”
He said it like we were marks in a pick-up bar. He had pulled up next to us and kind of crouched/squatted on his little scooter in a casual way. Which is tough to pull off, but he did it. He had goggles on and when he lifted them to his forehead, I saw that his eyes were a little wonky too. Not like bug eyes, but something was funky about them. Like his pupils weren’t the right shape or were too big or something.
“Uh, we’re from Bosstown and Smashweed, we came up here looking for some water filters.”
He nodded like this was perfectly normal “And they sent you on this mission? Have they run out of warriors?”
“I think they’re keeping them in reserve so they can kill each other later.”
He paused a second like he was remembering how and then coughed something like a laugh “That does sound like that pack of savages. Doc says that back in the sixties some of them came up here and caused all kinds of trouble, stole a lot of her things, not just filters for the river. I don’t think she’s going to be happy to find you coming back again on their behalf. As you can see, she’s got things a little more organized up here now – just to avoid trouble like that happening again.”
“The sixties like a year?” He nodded. “What year is it now?”
“Twenty ninety-seven or thereabouts. I haven’t checked in a while but I think that’s right. When you’re the only ones keeping track of the calendar it doesn’t really matter. It’s important to the Doc though, probably for her research and such. She’s fanatical about dates and times.”
I exchanged a look with Martialla “Do you have any filters? The river is polluted and it’s causing problems downriver.”
He blinked and I realized what was wrong with his eyes, they open the other way. “Not the kind of thing that I would confirm for hostiles, is it? I tell you what we have up here and next thing I know, your raiders are attacking us.”
I smiled “Hostiles? Come on, do we seem hostile?”
His mouth moved in what may have been a return smile of some kind “No, you don’t, matter of fact, but I’m not some ignorant paddy peasant, those firearms on your hips speak volumes. You may not be dressed like warriors but that’s a great way to catch someone with their pants down.”
I dropped him a sassy wink “I do like catching people pants down.” His reaction, or lack thereof I guess, was to stoneface me. “Uh, anyway, I assure you that we’re not here to cause any trouble, the villagers don’t even know you’re up here, they don’t even know what happened. Maybe we can work out a trade. Assuming that you even have the filters of course, which you are not saying that you do and I wouldn’t dream of asking.”
He kicked-started his little machine, which barely made a noise as the engine fired “There’s nothing down there that the Doc would want to trade for, but I’ll let her know, go on back out of the fields and wait, I’ll let you know what she says about it.”
“How long might that take?”
He didn’t bother to answer, putting down his goggles and skidding slowly in a little circle and heading back the way from which he came in a cloud of dust and grit.