I’ve chased you to embrace you, like the sun chases the moon

In my old life, which was a few days ago and/or a hundred years ago, sometimes at night I’d have a bad dream.  I’d dream that I was being chased by a giant spider with my dad’s head or I’d be trapped underwater or I’d be alone in the frozen wilderness, snow falling with nothing around for thousands of miles.  But I’d wake up.  The dream would be over.  A wave of relief would wash over me.  I wasn’t being chased or drowning or freezing, I was in my warm soft bed with my Egyptian cotton sheets and my Frette linens.  Everything was fine.  No, everything wasn’t fine, everything was great!  I was rich (well maybe not rich rich but I was doing well). I was an excellent actress and a fantastic singer, I was world renowned (well maybe not world but I was doing well) and most importantly of all I was pretty, so very very pretty.  Everyone said so.

Now it happens the other way round.  In my dreams everything is okay and when I wake up it’s a nightmare.  The bad things are true and those other things are just in my head.  I smile in my sleep sometimes, I can feel it in my cheeks.  But then I wake up.  No matter how tightly I close my eyes and will myself back to the dream, I can’t make it happen.  Those nice things I dream about are gone.  The hard ground underneath me is here.  The ache in my legs and back and shoulders is here.  Why does walking make my shoulders hurt?  It makes no sense.  I wake up and it all comes back.  I wake up and everything is not great.  Everything is not fine.  I am nothing and no one.  

Martialla has been eating about half as much as I have.  She probably thinks I don’t notice.  She’s not as sly as she thinks.  I wish could speak up.  I wish I could tell her she needs her strength too, more than me probably.  I wish I had the lady balls to say “I’m only going to eat as much as you do”.  But I don’t.  I feel like I’m starving and what I really want to do is not sacrifice nobly and share, what I want to do is eat her food too.  A couple energy bars and a handful of mungloaf isn’t enough.  I want to want to be fair and stalwart about the distribution of food but what I really want is to grab the food out of Martialla’s hand and gorge myself like the Cookie Monster.

Martialla saw me eyeballing her as I groaned my way awake “Thinking about seizing all the food and devouring it like Jaws?”

I shook my head haughtily “No not like Jaws at all, I was just thinking about that guy I shot.”

She nodded “Yep, you shot the hell out of him for sure.  Took away all he’s got and all he’s ever going to have.  Took him away from everyone that loved him and put an end to any good he would ever do in the world.”

I bolted upright, which hurt my stiff muscles more than the time I cracked my pelvis playing volleyball in eleventh grade “Jesus Christ Martialla, are you saying he didn’t deserve it?”

She shrugged as if it didn’t matter “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bullet that only hit people who deserved it.  Living a good life isn’t an effective bulletproof vest, the best way to avoid bullets is to be the one pulling the trigger.”

I felt a shiver run through my guts “When did you get so grizzled?”

She gestured around at the broken landscape “Uh, I’m going to guess when you dragged me out of my popsicle tube and the world was all blowed up and my husband and my parents and everyone I ever knew besides you was long dead.  Also I was mostly just paraphrasing Unforgiven, plus a little bit of Copland.”

I nodded “That did sound kind of familiar.”

“This isn’t the movies though, this is apocalypse now . . . not the movie, I mean it’s the apocalypse and it’s now.  Sorry, that was confusing.  You know what I mean.  It’s all gone, it’s just you and me here on the raggedy edge.”

“What are your chances do you reckon?”

Martialla looked around again as if assessing “Not good, but all is not lost.  We’re smart and we’re resourceful, if we work together I think we can get through this.”

“And what does that mean?  What are we getting through to?  That’s what I’m having the hardest time with.  What’s the goal?  Staying alive?  To what end?  Doesn’t there have to be something to fight for?  You need something to be planning towards right?”

She shrugged “I’m not sure what else there is at this point.  Maybe finding something to live for is goal one.  Start with that.”

“Searching for meaning at the end of the world huh?  That’s some kind of philosophical thingamajig if ever there was one.  You remember Tim Kragt?”

She frowned “The stunt coordinator?  I’m the one who introduced you to him.”

I frowned back at her “So you remember him then.  We were training one time and I was feeling pretty saucy about myself and my ‘skills’ so I asked him what I should do if someone attacked me for real, you know, what move I should use.  And he said that if a man ever attacked me in earnest, what I should do is run.  I didn’t like that answer.  I goaded him into ‘sparring’ for real.  He didn’t even hit me really, it was more like a shove, and I flew back like I was nothing.  He told me that wasn’t even half his strength.  He told me if someone wanted to hurt me, I should run as fast as I could.  And if I couldn’t get away, then beg them not to hurt me.  It really stuck in my craw.”

“Why are you bringing up Tim Kragt now?”

“Last night I watched you hack a man to death with a tomahawk, and then stomp another man’s skull in.”

“And?”

“And that’s what it made me think of.  Tim Kragt telling me to beg for my life.”

She stared at me for a long time and then shook her head slowly “Jesus Christ Ela, this isn’t some feminist roundtable, this is survival.  It’s not some action movie either, this is real god damn life with real consequences and real death.  Running away is a great idea!  I wish I could have run away but I couldn’t leave you there asleep, now could I?”

My face got hot “So what, it’s my fault?  Is that what you’re saying?!”

“I’m not saying anything, you’re the one who brought up fucking Tim Kragt for no reason!”

September 6th, 1973 – Which way to the embassy?

I asked my new best friend Elvis to point me towards the consulate for the Coalition States.  He didn’t know what I was talking about.  Doesn’t every country have a place in every other country where you go after you get kidnapped?  I tried to explain to him what an embassy was but I was hamstrung by the fact that I don’t really know what an embassy is.  It’s where the ambassador lives right?  That went nowhere but since I was still starving he took me to an open air noodle place.  It was like a shelter in a park, only it was a restaurant.  Elvis watched with mild disgust as I shoved noodles in my mouth.

“Why are you so scrawny if you eat like that?”

“Scrawny?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

He shrugged slightly “I guess.  Where does all the food go, that’s what I want to know.”

I looked around at the surrounding buildings “What I want to know is where the real food is around here.  I would die for a cheeseburger right now.  And some fries.  And a Coke.  And some cookies.  And a hot dog.  And some pizza.  And some ice cream.  I think those guys gave me a tapeworm or something.”

“What makes you think they did anything to you?”

“Well aside from the fact that I’m starving to death and I have a headache that would kill a gorilla, there’s this.” I twisted a fork around into a blob as easily as if it was a pipe cleaner.

He made a face “There’s no reason to ruin a good fork.  Are you saying you couldn’t do that before?” I shook my head “Huh.  I thought you were one of those American superwomen.  If the Shadow Lords have figured out how to give people superpowers that’s not going to be good for anyone.”

“What are you talking about?  What superwomen?”

He cocked his head slightly “I see in the news all the time about Americans flying around and blowing up bases and thwarting missile attacks.  Stuff like that.”

I chewed for a moment “You mean those two guys in the military that are always overthrowing regimes in South America?  And that Angel woman who just died?  What does that have to do with me?”

“Nothing apparently.  Supermen and women come from America and you have superpowers and are from America so I thought that’s what was happening.”

“You keep saying America like that’s a country.  I’m from the Coalition, I was born in the States and moved to the Pecos Republic but . . .”

Elvis held his hands up “Don’t get bent out of shape at me, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a strong grasp on the geography of southeast Asia either.”

“Fair enough.  Any thoughts on how I can get home?”

“Hmm, can’t you just fly?”

“How would I know if I could?”

He considered for a moment “Jump off a roof and see what happens?”

“Pass.”

“You’re going to need a plane ticket then sounds like.  Which means you’re going to need money.  I heard the Shadow Lords are looking for people like you.  I don’t know how well they pay though.  I think it’s more of an unpaid internship.”

“Hilarious.  You want to loan me some of your funny purple money to get home?  I’ll wire you the money back.  Eventually.  It may take a while, I’m kind of between jobs at the moment.”

He plucked at his dirty shirt “Do I look like I have any money to you?”

“No you don’t.  So what is your deal?  You just wander around picking fights with sex traffickers?”

He tilted his head “More or less yeah.  I know I guy you can talk to.  He’s in the CIA so he should be able to get you home somehow.”

“If he’s in the CIA how do you know about him?”

“I didn’t say he was good at his job.”