Like many of the Frankenvehicles here in the future present, it’s hard to describe it exactly. You know that old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee? I feel like that applies to the cars (or whatever you want to call them) now. It’s as if the decision was made to build a car and everyone involved showed up with one part without discussing anything about what it was supposed to be beforehand and then they went ahead and whatever they had was bolted together and everyone shrugged and said “this is fine”. And they drove the monstrosity off into the desert.
This thing was part dune buggy and part steamroller. I know what you’re thinking, “Ela that makes no sense, steamrollers are huge and rugged, dune buggies are small enough to fit in my pocket and they fall apart if you breathe on them too hard, how could they be joined together? It’s unholy it is, that ain’t in the Bible”. I’m just telling you what it looked like. It also had some kind of crane-arm on it with a sawblade taller than me, so what do you think of that, smartypants? It was parked beside what was left of a wall of a building.
It was impressive (or weird maybe) enough that we didn’t notice the dude next to it taking a leak until a second later. He looked pretty normal by the standards of the day. Other than the fact that he had no nose and his earlobes went down to his shoulders, he could have passed for a modern (past) day human. The most interesting thing about him to me was that he was wearing what seemed to be a modern (past) day black t-shirt. It looked like there should have been a logo on it for a shitty punk band. He wheeled our way when Martialla dropped the “presso” sign she was holding with a loud clang (is there such a thing as a soft clang? Maybe.) and his little beady hominid eyes went wide at the sight of us. And who can blame him? We’re quite the pair to behold.
“Hel . . .”
As far as I got before Martialla shot him in the face. I have to give her this much, a headshot with a handgun is pretty hard to pull off at any kind of range. You’re supposed to aim for the “center of mass” which is a nice way of saying the chest because that means you’re more likely to hit something vital. Headshots are for snipers I think. She did it though.
I spun on her, incredulous “Why did you do that?”
She gestured with her pistol “He made a move.”
“A move? What move? Like he was getting fresh with us at junior prom in the backseat of his mom’s El Torino?”
She motioned again “He had a weapon. He was going to try and kill us.”
I looked and there was something by the body. I guess it’s a weapon. It was a flexible little stick-thing with a nest of spikes on the end. Maybe it’s a blackjack, only for killing people instead of knocking them out? It looked more like a torture tool from a museum exhibit about the Inquisition than a weapon weapon. It looked like what they’d beat a woman with about the belly, groin, and buttocks who had committed the sin of their husband having impure thoughts about another woman.
“Jesus Christ Martialla, maybe let me get a couple words out before you kill someone, will you?”
She looked at me for a moment, a look that I couldn’t decipher. That scared me more than anything else she’d done since we woke up because until that moment, I could always read her like a book.
“He who hesitates is lost. Or she in this case.”
After waiting a bit to see if Earlobes had any friends in the area that were going to jump out at us, Martialla started looting the body. Just like that. I was more than a little disturbed by what had just happened, but what was I going to do about it?
I can’t explain exactly why, but what came to my mind in that moment was a book they made us read in school about Vietnam. We were only assigned to read some chapters but I read the whole thing. Which wasn’t like me ordinarily, to do more work in school, but I did it that time for some reason. One chapter is about the army guys finding a water buffalo or an ox or whatever they have in Vietnam and they befriend it and feed it and nurse it back to health and then they torture it almost to death and throw it down a well. The narrator talks about how doing this filled them with an almost religious ecstasy and refilled them with purpose about what they were doing and gave them the strength to soldier on. He wasn’t saying it was a good thing, he was saying it was objectively awful, but because the situation they were in was so insane, doing something like that somehow gave them hope. It made no sense to me then. I can understand why that part of the book wasn’t required reading.
I don’t think Martialla killed that guy because of anything like that, but that’s where my mind went. Maybe because it was about therapeutic violence. I’ve never been afraid of Martialla before, why would I be, and I’m not afraid of her now. That being said, it was like back home on the farm when I was a kid and saw our dog Lucky rip a possum in half and then drag the bloody half-possum up to the house wagging his tail. It’s like “oh, right, I forgot this loyal and shaggy creature is also a killing machine”. You have to remember that.
Whatever kind of moral quandary or existential crisis or whatever the heck may have been going on melted away in an instant when Martialla waved me over to the Frankencar and showed me what was wrapped in a coarse cloth in a little cubbyhole by the driver’s seat. Blackberries. Tons of them. Like a quartsworth of blackberries. And right next to that in a big ceramic pot was a mound of mulberries, figs, pecans, and walnuts. It all looked like it had been picked (or whatever) just minutes before.
Maybe that’s the lesson. Get hungry enough and you don’t give a flying fuck what happens to anyone.