Then I guess not feeling is the same as not crying to you

Martialla’s so-called plan, if it can so be called, was as stupid as it was insane – talk to them.  Why did I go along with this stupid insane plan?  That’s a question historians will be asking for generations to come.  Why did someone as smart and canny and beautiful with a gorgeous singing voice as Ela the Savior of Humanity go along with such a stupid insane plan?  They’ll probably ask that while sitting near a statue of me that’s been erected for my role in rebuilding society.  

Speaking of, I need to start thinking about what stuff I want to make sure they don’t accidentally add to the new world I’m going to build.  

I should have known better, and I did know better, so why did I do it?  Here’s the only thing I can tell you about my mental state.  Before we left Bosstown when I woke up, I saw that Martialla was sitting with her head in her knees crying.  It was like walking in on your parents having sex, and I don’t mean vanilla PIV, I mean doing some really weird stuff like with props.  It stuns you in a way you never thought possible because you didn’t even ever think about that being a thing that existed in the world.  Parents are not sexual beings with feelings and emotions and hopes and dreams and flaws, they’re just there to give you money and cook and clean for you. Like a maid/cook/ATM.  By the same token Martialla shouldn’t be crying, that’s like getting on an airplane and seeing that the pilot is a killer whale in a little pilot’s hat.  It makes no sense.  

My instinctual reaction, to say loudly “are you fucking crying?” in an incredulous and horrified tone, probably wasn’t helpful.  In order to smooth that over, I told a little bit of a white lie.  I knew that Martialla was having a tough time on account of her husband being long dead and probably painfully devoured by cannibals and/or taken as a warlord’s concubine, so I told her that I had secretly gotten engaged to my (now long dead and cannibalized or concubined) boyfriend just the week before we went into the cryo-tubes.   So while I didn’t know exactly what she was going through, I could sympathize.  In truth, we had broken up the month before but thankfully for Martialla I’m a tremendous actor and she bought it.

It seemed to make her feel better.  But I’ve been feeling guilty about it.  Which doesn’t make a lot of sense because I used to lie to Martialla all the time and it never bothered me before.  I mean not really.  After all it takes two to lie right, one to lie and one to believe it – so she’s just as culpable as I am when you get down to it.  

Point being when she proffered this insane stupid idea of détente with these post-apocalyptic meatheads, maybe I agreed because I felt bad about lying to her too-wide unappealing face, even though as we established just a moment ago, she’s just as much at fault for believing me as I am for lying.  

We drove closer and then stopped to see what they would do, ready to haul ass if they came at us en masse.  I’m no good at estimating distances, maybe we were two hundred yards away, maybe it was a mile.  I’ll call it “a fair piece” as my grandma used to say.  

They didn’t immediately swarm us, which was good.  In fact even though they obviously noticed us, they didn’t do anything for a goodly amount of time.  I suppose they thought we were travelers noticing that the road was blocked and trying to decide what to do about them rather than people trying to get their attention to talk.  We could have waved a flag or something only we didn’t have one, and also would they even know what that meant?  Fun fact, one of my distant ancestors fled to America in the 1600s because he was a military commander that flew a flag of truce and then ordered an attack when the enemy came to parlay, and people weren’t pumped about that kind of behavior back then.  I always meant to learn more about that.  Too late now I suppose.  Genealogy research has likely had its day in the sun.

Eventually a cadre of dusty future people got into one of the buggies and detached from the group to come our way.  Behind them they left TWO people with what looked like functioning rifles covering them.  That’s a lot of firepower by the order of the day.  I was prepared to drop the hammer and ram them if things turned south – I’m pretty sure that J-Lo would split their moon-rover looking pile of junk in half without too much trouble.  I imagine, had that happened, it would have looked like the time my friends and I moved old man Yeltin’s chicken shack onto the railroad tracks and it was smashed to bits.  That was the same night I let Joey Latiano go down on me.  It wasn’t great.  But it was alright.  

These folks had masks on and capes and robes and all the ragged-ass clothing you could want.  That seems to be one of the three accepted apocalyptic styles of dress.  I don’t get it at all, it’s balls hot out here and humid as you like, and they’re wearing fifteen layers?  How do they not pass out from heat stroke?  The leader, or actually probably not the leader but the one the leader told to talk to us, had on giant goggles and grasped an ax that was from our time.  It looked brand spanking new, it said FISKARS on the side plain as day.  How the hell is that still in such good shape?

S/he said something like “oota goota solo” and I figured the plan was dead right there but when I sighed and replied “I can’t understand you bub” one of the others with their head and face wrapped in a giant scarf leaned out of the buggy and said clearly (if confusingly) “Hello, chief.  Let’s talk.  Why not?”

Why not indeed?  Scarfy (which would be a good name for a dog) claimed that s/he and their friends were not marauders at all, but rather were on a diplomatic mission of peace.  They claimed further that there had been an earthquake (according to Martialla this may have been what granted the Invincible access to the valley) after which the river that all the communities depended on was poisoned by something underground.  As they say, this had happened once before and at that time, Bosstown had grabbed all the filters you need to clean the water.  

I told them that the Boss himself had said they were attacking people and they responded by saying of course they were attacking people, how else would you open up a dialog?  Their diplomatic mission of peace was to cut off trade and try and force Bosstown to the bargaining table by starving them – you know, with violence.  

While Martialla was mulling this over I said “so you’re from Smashweed then?” and Scarfy said no, they were hired goons from down south brought in not just by Smashweed but also Roachback, Treehorn, Iron Springs, Bristleboar, and other smaller villages in the area.  They didn’t really care or understand what was going on with the water filters.  They’re just in it for the “money”.  I asked what they were getting paid with and s/he said food, water, chips, and monkeys.

“Monkeys?  Like for pets?”

For some reason this seemed to be really offensive to them and they remounted and drove off in a huff.

December 18, 1973 – Time to get int-ro-spect-ive

When I was nine I was playing on the roof my grandma’s house.  She had told me not to go up there.  This may shock you, but as a kid I wasn’t always the best at minding what I was told.  I saw some kids playing on the roof across the street.  What was I going to do, let them outshine me?  I didn’t fall off the roof, but when I was climbing back down onto the back porch I lost my footing and hit the railing pretty good.  I had the wind knocked out of me for a minute but once that was over, I started crying.  And I mean hard. 

After a minute my grandma came out, lit up a cigarette and leaned there and smoked it while I bawled my eyes out.  When she was done smoking she went back inside without saying anything.  I swore then that I would never cry again.  I haven’t kept that promise, I doubt many people keep promises they make when they’re nine, but I’m not a big crier.  Not for real anyway, I’m a fantastic fake crier, it’s a great way to make people feel uncomfortable if you need to do that.  If there’s any good that comes from living under a tarp on the roof of a fireworks factory (and there isn’t) it’s that you can pull one flap down and have some privacy for a good cry.  I heard Blue shuffling around “outside”.

“What’s the protocol here?  Am I supposed to throw back the tarp-flap and try and comfort you or stay out here and pretend nothing is happening?”

I peeked out from under the tarp-flap “I wasn’t crying, I’m cutting onions for a lasagna.  Don’t come in yet because it’s a surprise.”

He sat down on the roof “A surprise lasagna?  What a delight.”

I threw the tarp-flap back into a vague tent shape “What did you feel after you killed someone for the first time?”

“I don’t remember.”

I scowled “You don’t remember how you felt the first time you killed someone?”

“I don’t remember the first time I killed someone.  Have you ever been to Borneo?  It’s all jungles and swamps and mangroves, even when you’re in the mountains.  We were shooting all the time without having any clue if we were hitting anyone.”

“You know what I mean.”

He nodded slowly “Yes, I know what you mean.   I remember the first time I know I killed someone.  I was on recon and I threw a phosphorus grenade into the back a halftrack.  I hope I never get so jaded that I forget burning four men to death.  Although what I remember much better than how I felt is my sergeant dressing me down because the grenade destroyed the communication equipment and codebooks that were in there.  I should have found a way to kill them and get the intelligence materials.  That’s what I remember most.”

“So how did you feel afterwards?”

“Didn’t bother me, that’s why I was there.”

“It didn’t bother you at all?”

“Maybe a little, but by then I had been in the field for almost two years.  I had seen so many people on my side get hit that I didn’t spare too much time feeling sorry for the people trying to kill us.  Plus I wasn’t even twenty, I wasn’t given to a lot of soul-searching at that time.”

“How about now that you’re not twenty?”

He flicked his tongue in what I’ve come to understand is a shrug “Still doesn’t concern me much.  War is what it is, people die, not much anyone can do about that.  Except stop having wars, which is a little bit above my pay grade.”

“Doesn’t that make you a sociopath?”

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t know it if I was, now would I?  Ideology and governments and countries and all that has nothing to do with it Ela, not really.  There’s a reason nations send young people to fight in wars, they don’t know anything.  I was trained to kill people and I was told to kill people and I was rewarded for killing people – how could I feel bad about that?  I killed six men one night and they gave me a medal for doing it.  People can say they’re defending what they believe in or they’re stopping bad people or whatever they want.  But it’s just training and conditioning.  They tell you to do it and you do it.  If you’re good at it you get rewarded.  It’s what the state does, sometimes there’s due process and a needle in the arm and sometimes you get shot in the head by a sniper.   Why do riot cops shoot demonstrators?  Someone gives and order and they follow it.”

“And that makes it okay?”

“What’s okay about anything that happens?  Ela what you’re going through here is the dilemma that warriors have been struggling with since the first time a caveman told the big caveman in the group to bash someone with a rock.  Why am I doing this and what does it all mean?  And thousands of years later we still don’t have any answers.”

“But you’re not in the army anymore, so why are you still doing this?”

“Because I can’t sing and I can’t dance.  I can’t shoot a basketball, but I’m pretty good at killing people.  I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years, it’s all I know, what else would I do?  Plus I have to find the people that turned me into a freak and make them pay.”

“Revenge?  Is that it?”

He huffed a lizard laugh “You’re chastising me for wanting revenge?  That’s your reason for everything you do.”