Terna hunched her shoulders, frowning. She’d gotten off of Crawley’s back right as soon as she’d realized his destination.
“We cannot go there. My people, they will not go there. It is forbidden. A holy site violated by things unholy.”
He stared at her, shaking his half-cybernetic head. “The place is riddled with old BuyMort pod monsters. We set up a safe meeting place, underground. A bunker in some basement somewhere. There’s nothing to be afraid of once we get there. But . . .”
The man held up a finger and surveyed the ruin before them. Stunted trees had cracked through pavement and ash to take hold of life here in this former metropolis. And there was something else, some sort of plant that he’d never seen before. Its leaves were shiny-click in complexion and should well have browned and fallen off during the fall season.
The fact that the trees were deciduous and that their leaves weren’t dead gave him some worry.
“How about we compromise. It’ll take a bit of around and over, but if we skirt the city to its southernmost point, we’ll find an old sewage access tunnel that still has a surprisingly large amount of usable surface exits and other sewer branches.”
“The sewer?” Terna asked.
“Yeah. A place that some of the nations of your people used to build to run poop through. No worries on smell, though. Damn thing hasn’t been used for I’d say at least a hundred years.”
Terna nodded. “The sewer is forbidden.”
Crawley growled audibly, throwing his head to the sky.
The storm was dying down, and the sounds of battle had vanished from the distance. He’d thought that everything from this point on would be rather straight-forward.
He’d apparently thought wrongly.
“Damnit child. What are you, sixteen?”
“We have to go in the city. We will meet the rest of the team there, get an extraction, and get to somewhere safe and organized. This place, it’s full of enemies. People that are hunting your people to extinction!”
Terna put a hand over her mouth.
“We are hobbs. We are many. There will be no extinction. My people are hardy. The enemy have tried, yet all they have inflicted is kaput.”
Crawley’s face softened. “Damn girl. Were you listening in on my transmission?”
She nodded her head, her thin and youthful gray face full of defiance at an unknown enemy. Crawley twisted his body as if to find the answers in the hues and scents of the snowy lands around him.
“Fucking hell. Shit.”
“Damn,” Terna supplied helpfully. His eyes lanced hers and she quieted. Terna did not like the look she saw in his face. It wasn’t one of humor or shared defiance.
It was one of shared sorrow.
He turned away, cupping his masked chin in his hands and a pit grew inside her. Terna didn’t want to ask, but she suddenly understood that she needed to know.
“Crawley. What is kaput?” she asked.
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Terna stared at the latest BuyMort enticement. She wouldn’t select it, but it held useful information.
Information that seemed to indicate that her people had been eliminated from existence.
Tears sprang to her eyes. Crawley sighed and knelt down beside her.
“Yeah, I was afraid that might happen,” he said, nodding his understanding. “Shit. What’s your name? I don’t even know.”
“Terna,” she moaned, her voice quivering through the chill air.
“That’s a pretty name. A very pre-BuyMort name. Listen. Terna, I told you before that your tribe was either all dead or all locked up. You’re the one who chose to believe it had to be the latter. This multiverse — it’s a shit place. All of it.”
She stared at him, her eyes glassy and liquid, her face now a positive cascade of tears. He sighed again.
“You are what’s left. Unless you get your ass up and moving with me to the rendezvous. If you die, your tribe dies. Is that what you want?”
Terna turned her face away and Crawley grabbed her chin, turning it to face him. With his other hand, he removed his mask, exposing the nightmare circuitry of his otherwise handsome features.
“I am Ghonar of Tribe Hearthclaw, Earth 19D – Caveman Earth 3 they called it. From me descends the continuation of the tribe. Terna, I am 130 years old and though everyone in my tribe died on our opening day, I have since fathered over one-hundred new people to fill their ranks and take their place. There is honor in living and continuing. The memories of my people survive, as does their blood.”
Crawley stopped, realizing that he sounded very angry and that he was a little out of breath. He refocused himself, trying to see if his words had any impact on the young hobb girl in front of him.
“I thought you said your name was Crawley,” she responded in a tiny voice,
He clapped his hands on her shoulder. “I survived, so I changed my name to fit the multiverse. Perhaps you too will do the same one day.”
Rising up from his haunches, he checked their surroundings and smelled the air, checking for anything out of the norm.
“Come, Terna, last of her tribe and savior of her tribe’s future. Let’s enter the ruins and be done with this place. The tribe taboos are no more and I know exactly where we are going . . . if we enter from this spot right here. And, when you are warm and safe, you’ll have the time and space in which to properly grieve.”
Terna stood up as well. “Do you have another one of those?” she asked, pointing to his scoped long barrel black powder rifle.
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“I don’t,” Crawley said, noticing her momentary distraction. “But I’m judging by the ad you just got and dismissed that you know what it is. It is a weapon of your people from before the arrival of BuyMort. Would you like one?” he asked.
Terna nodded. A moment later a sleek cigar-shaped pod tore into existence, circling them once before landing at their feet. It opened and a long box was deposited to the ground before them.
It played a musical little trill of notes, then sailed off into another dimensional tear.
Crawley knelt down, taking his blade from its rotted sheathe and using it to split open the strangely skin-like tape sealing the box. Reaching into its interior, he pulled out a rifle the exact same type and color as his, and he presented it to her with open palms, a knee sinking into the dirt.
“Terna, last of her tribe. This is the Hord and Rata Hunting Rifle. An artifact of your people. Use it in their honor.”
Her face paled and her mouth a big O, she took the rifle from him, and looked down its length. It wasn’t the first time that she’d held a rifle, but certainly it was the first time she held one of this make and, more importantly, prime condition.
“What was all of that?” Terna asked, her face a contorted mix of fascination and horror. “The flying pod, the holes in the sky, the music?!”
“I’m not sure that you want to know,” Crawly said, his face guarded.
Terna’s face darkened. “There are many things that happened today. All of them are things that I rather would not have known. I ask again. What was all of that?”
“Fuck. You aren’t going to like it,” he advised.
“Tell me,” she shouted.
Crawley shrugged, his hands out and his palms up in the universal sign of giving up.
“All of that? That was BuyMort.”