Tag Archives: Edward Morrison

Edward and Hestia

This is part of my post-apocalyptic Aftermath series. The previous story was Voices from the Past. Here is the Aftermath Glossary.

 

“It looks like you’ve been through an ash heap or two since I saw you last,” Hestia said. “I guess we all have.”

Despite what she said, Edward could not see that the last seventeen years had touched her much at all. She was older, of course. Her hair was touched with silver and a few wrinkles had sprung up in the corners of her eyes, but overall she had passed through the poisonous world unscathed.

“You know each other?” Blake asked in surprise.

“We met once,” Edward said. “Look,” he said, turning back to Hestia, “I’m not looking for anything for myself. You took some kids for me before; now I’m asking if you can again. I have one named Sean who’s in the hospital here. Just give him a good home and I’ll get the hell out of here.”

Hestia gave a small smile. “Hell,” she repeated softly

“What?”

“You said hell. I just wondered what you meant by it.”

“I—I don’t know, I just said it. What does it matter?” He felt a flash of anger.

“I was just wondering because most people in here consider out there to be more or less a literal Hell. They would do anything not to go out there and the people out there would do anything to get in here. So why the hell do you want to go back out so badly?”

“I can survive out there. It’s where I belong. I’m in control there.”

“Ah, ‘better to rule in Hell’ and all that.” Hestia sat down and motioned them to chairs. Blake sat down but Edward didn’t move. “I’m curious, Eddie—”

“Squid.”

“Squid? Really?” She shrugged. “I’m curious, Squid, what you’ve seen out there. What’s the world like?”

“You know what it’s like,” he said. “You said it yourself. Everything is sickly and twisted. Food is scarce. Everybody is hungry. Everybody suffers.”

“Except you.”

“Even me! But what’s the alternative? Live in here where everyone tiptoes around in fear of losing their position.” He would not tell her, but a small part of him wanted to stay—longed for that safety and security. Still, he could not do it. A bird that had been freed and lived in the open forest could not voluntarily step back into the cage, no matter have much gilt was put on the bars.

“You know,” Hestia said, “the right to murder and steal is not as precious in a place where no one is your enemy and everything you desire is freely given. But let me tell you about the world outside. Cambridge is the solitary island of civilization in England, but we are branching out. We even have a seaport now in Great Yarmouth and a rail line connecting us. It was the closest port we could find.”

“Was Ipswich destroyed?” Edward asked. “That would be closer.”

Blake made a noise of exclamation and Hestia stared at him. “Are you making fun, Squid, or have you really been that isolated from things down there in your scuttle-hole?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean, that Ipswich is the antithesis of civilization now,” Hestia said. “It’s a seething den of crime and piracy and every terrible thing you could conceive. They are our main enemy, since they are the only ones that send targeted attacks against our supply lines.”

“I didn’t know,” Edward said. He didn’t know how he felt about it. Part of him wanted to go there, to test himself against a whole city of the worst villains and thieves, but part of him didn’t want the competition. He enjoyed being the top dog.

“We have a few mines and a small refinery,” Hestia continued, “although a lot of what we get is still through salvage. That’s my job here. As Minister of the Exterior, I send out people to find things and bring back the best. Blake works for me sometimes, finding robots.”

“And that’s what you want me to do, to go find stuff and bring it back.” Edward thought of the chren mining that Hinsen had tried to get him to do and suppressed a shudder.

“That’s the idea,” she said. “Listen: what you’ve got here is a golden chance. We don’t pull molerats—outsiders—in and offer them jobs very often. Actually, never. But you’re here and at least I’ve met you before; someone who attracts little kids like a magnet and tries to find them good homes can’t be a total blacksoul. So, here’s the deal. We’ll give you a house here—you don’t have to live in it if you don’t want—and the boy can stay here. You can spend most of your time outside and do whatever you want, as long as you bring me some good stuff every now and then. If you ever want something more, let me know.”

“What the alternative?”

Hestia waved her hand carelessly. “Take the boy and leave. But if you do, my offer won’t be renewed and you won’t get back in. I’m too busy for that.”

“What do you need me to find?” Edward asked and Hestia smiled.

There was a buzz and Blake took out his e-device and looked at the screen. “The hospital says the boy is awake.”

“You mean Sean?” Edward asked.

“He says his name is Damian. And he is asking for you.”

hospital bed 2


Voices from the Past

This is part of my post-apocalyptic Aftermath series. The previous story was Droog the Angel. Here is the Aftermath Glossary.

 

The hot water that coursed over Edward’s head and down his back seemed to strip away more than the dirt and sweat of years. It soaked deep, washing away some of the pain and awakening a part of him that had existed, Before. He stood in the shower and reveled in becoming clean until Blake knocked on the door and told him the water tank was getting low.

Blake’s house was on the ground floor and looked out onto one of Cambridge’s ancient college quadrangles. The apartment was small, but warm and dry, and to Edward it looked like a palace. He came out of the shower and put on clean clothes that Blake had given him. The place peaceful and empty, but still he held his knife close to his side as he went into the living room. Blake was sitting by the electric heater, fiddling with a tiny gearbox.

“Thanks for the clothes and shower,” Edward said, standing uncertainly by the door. He glanced quickly behind him—no one was there.

“Not a problem,” Blake said, barely glancing up. “I’m happy to extend a few things to a friend of 8134—Droog, I should say. Just sit down and relax. You don’t need the knife.”

Edward sat down and crossed his arms, keeping the knife hidden in his hand. “So, how did you find him?”

“He found me,” Blake said. “He’s a smart little bot. He told me all about you—otherwise I’m not sure I’d have let you in here.”

“He doesn’t talk; he just blinks his red and green lights.”

“I put those lights there to make it easier to communicate,” Blake said, “but he does talk, if you ask him to and know the language. It’s Russian.” He held up an e-device. “I’ve got an instruct that will translate. I’ll give you a copy, if you want. He told me how you rescued that boy. Sean, right?”

Edward stood up, dropping his arms and unconsciously exposing the knife blade. “You have Sean? Where is he?”

Blake smiled. “Sit down, and put the knife away. He’s with Droog at the hospital—yes, we have such things here. He was almost dead when I found him and he would have been dead and eaten if not for Droog. You’re lucky to have that little bot.”

“I stole him, you know, from a guy named Joseph.”

“Droog says you invited him to come along on your quest. To find music, he said. You’re a complicated guy, Edward.”

“I thought bots couldn’t lie,” Edward said. He put away his knife slowly and sat down.

“They don’t have any morals,” Blake said, “but they also don’t have any guile or reason to lie. They tell things as they see them, but every so often, they just choose to interpret things a different way. Droog claims you requested him to come.”

Edward gave a small laugh. The shower had put him in a better mood than he could remember for a long time and hearing that Sean was safe made it even better. “You know, I don’t remember the last time I requested anyone to do anything,” he said.

Blake gave him a long look over the gearbox. “I’m not surprised, looking at you. Listen, you can stay the day here, but tomorrow night you’ll have to go. If you want, I can see about getting you a job somewhere around town: security or loading or something like that. Still, I don’t know if you’re the kind of guy who works well with others.”

Edward gave him a thin smile. “I want to see Sean.”

Cambridge street

They left Blake’s house and walked through narrow streets of the city. They were lit with electric lights, quiet, and what amazed Edward most of all, clean. People passed them, talking quietly. There were no raucous market sellers, not street rats, not even any weapons that he could see.

“Isn’t there any crime here?” he asked Blake.

“Of course,” Blake replied. “There’s crime everywhere, but nothing like out there. The penalties are harsh too: often execution or worse.”

“Worse?”

“Exile,” Blake said. “Fear of the outside is a better enforcer of the law than any number of policemen.” He led the way up a set of stone steps and into a long hall.

“This is just the local clinic. The bigger hospital is across the city, but I thought this would be sufficient.”

They came to a long room with beds lining the walls. Droog was standing by the third one on the right and lying on the bed was the little boy, Sean. He had an IV in his arm and looked to be asleep. Blake called over a doctor, who said that Sean was improving and would probably fully recover in a week or two.

“Have you thought about what you want to do next?” Blake asked. “As I said, you can stay with me today, but that’s all. All other lodgings in the city are for workers. Ain’t no tourists here.”

“You’re right when you said I probably wouldn’t work well with others,” Edward said. “I’d best be moving on out of here, but do you think he could stay here?”

Blake was shaking his head before Edward even finished. “Only the children of workers can stay. If you stay, you adopt him; otherwise, you’ll have to take him when you go.”

Edward looked down at the sleeping boy on the bed and wished he could just leave him. He felt as if he barely knew his own mind anymore. Why did he feel he owed this boy anything? He had never killed a kid, it was true, but he had robbed a good many and pushed them around. This wasn’t penance for them; he honestly didn’t care about any of them. But still . . . He shook his head, as if trying to put it in order.

“I don’t think I’d fit in this city, but I’d like to do something to earn a place for the boy, at least.”

Blake smiled. “I think I know the person you want to talk to. She’s the Secretary of the Exterior. I’ve worked with her a few times, when I go out exploring for robots. “

They left Droog and Sean and walked for half an hour, to the heart of the city. They entered an area with more guards where Edward had to give up his knife. Finally, they were escorted down a hall and their guide opened a large, ornate door.

Edward found himself in a large oak-paneled office with leather furniture and shelves of books. A ‘Munculus bot and a larger Myoolbot, both painted yellow, stood to one side. Behind a large desk sat a middle-aged woman with close-cropped hair and wearing a leather jacket.

“Madame Secretary, I brought someone who is interested in expeditionary work. His name is—”

“Wait,” the woman said, cutting him off. “I think I know him.” She gave Edward a long look and then broke into a grin. “Hey there, crackerjack.”

She looked older, but Edward recognized her. From deep withing the annals of his memory a name slowly rose. “Hestia?” he said.


Droog the Angel

The latest chapter in the Aftermath series. The previous story was Droog Comes Home. There is also an Aftermath Glossary.

 

Edward Morrison felt powerless and that made him angry. He had been wandering the satellite slums of Cambridge for two days, searching for his robot Droog and the boy he called Sean. Why do I even care? Why don’t I just go? his mind demanded, but then the question always arose: Go where? He had no food, no supplies, no plan. What had he been thinking when he had left Free Frall? It had seemed so simple then.

He was also fiercely hungry. In Freefrall, he would merely go and take food if he needed it, but here people were shrewder, and far more dangerous. He had managed to steal a scrawny pheasant from an old woman in the market—just grabbed it off her table and ran. She was quick though, and a second after his hand closed on the bird, her knife was flashing towards his ribs. It missed him and he could hear her cursing him for a long ways away, even over the normal murmur of the crowds. He had eaten it furtively in the dark, gnawing quickly like an animal afraid of having its prize stolen.

That had been a day ago. Now he was starving again and becoming desperate. He would have ambushed someone and killed them for their food except that no one ventured outside the markets alone and everyone was heavily armed.

Dawn was close when he finally stumbled back to the nest he had found under some stubby bushes. It wasn’t much, but it kept the sun’s blistering rays off him . The air was sweltering and he slept fitfully, his dreams melding with hallucinations from the heat and thirst and his gnawing hunger.

He dreamed that he was in a dark room surrounded by all the people he had killed over the years. They came at him, one by one, and he had to fight them again and again. I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, he thought, but they wouldn’t stop. Then the scene shifted and he was wandering over the dark countryside with Droog, looking for Sean. He was too tired to pay attention and after a while, Droog led him to a place under the bushes, where he could rest. Droog did not leave, but kept leaning over him, making little noises and prodding him…

Edward pulled himself upright with a sharp intake of breath. Droog was standing in front of him, pushing his small, metal body partway the hollow in the bushes.

“Droog, you little gear-rat! How did you find me?” Edward shouted in surprise. He stopped as a coughing fit grabbed him. Droog reached into a bag he was carrying and pulled out a bottle of water and a metal container, which turned out to hold food. The water was warm, but cleaner than any Edward could remember and the food… he had not tasted food so good since Before, when food was plentiful and taken for granted.

Droog waited as Edward wolfed down the food and water. The position of the sun showed that it was late afternoon: about four hours until darkness. Droog took something else out of the bag and handed it to Edward. It was a suit of shiny, white material that included pants, jacket, gloves, hat and goggles.

“You want me to put this on?” Edward asked, although the answer was obvious. “Where are we going, Droog? Where did you get this stuff?” Droog did not reply, but simply indicated the clothes.

Edward put them, trying not to rip them on the bushes around him. They were bulky, but not hot and they seemed to cool him down, if anything. When he was completely covered, Droog went outside and he followed.

scorching sunlight

Edward had not been outside during the day in seventeen years. He had heard stories of people who had gotten caught outside when the sun rose: sunburns within a minute, third degree burns in an hour. The goggles cut the glare and for a moment, it was like he had was back then—Before—when he would walk outside in the sun’s warm light for hours.

They walked back through the Silver Street market and came to the bridge across the canal that led to the fortified city of Cambridge. Guards were there behind locks gates, wearing similar white suits and goggles. Droog handed them two square cards and they unlocked the gates. Just like that, Edward was in the protected city.

Droog must mean angel, he thought. Suddenly, the combined effect of the food, the sunlight and his sudden reversal of fortunes made tears start streaming down his cheeks. He hated them and the weakness they implied, but there was no way to make them stop.


Droog Comes Home – Part 2

Here is Part 1 of this story. Read the rest of the Aftermath stories here. Here is a glossary of slang and jargon used in the stories.

Night on the road

They left the Silver Street market area and struck out along a path that followed a canal. Twenty minutes of walking in the dark ended at a fire-lit circle of about twenty tents, with a few electric lights adding glaring illumination to the scene. It looked like a graveyard for every type of technology made in the last century. Masses of wire, piles of circuit boards, computers, e-devices, even a few battered robots filled the tents to overflowing. It was not a comforting place for Droog.

Matty led the way through a greasy yellow door-flap and into a tent stuffed with robot parts. A bald man with blotchy skin sat behind a workbench.

“Hey Screws, we brought you a good one,” Matty said. “It works, but it won’t take commands. Plus, it seems attached to this kid.”

“Fortuned stars,” Screws said, coming around the bench and inspecting Droog. “It’s quite a calico little drob. Someone’s fixed it up pretty well. Is it owned?”

“Just some mudscrape,” Matty said casually. “What’ll you give for it?”

As the men were haggling about trades, Droog did a scan of the tent. Somewhere beneath the pile of derelict technology was a robot that was still activated.

Have you been here long? Droog asked through the robot universal communication.

183 days, the other robot replied. He took off my limbs to put on other robots. I must wait here in case he needs any of my other parts.

What is he like? It looks as if he will acquire me. The other robot sent him scan logs from the last 183 days, which Droog analyzed instantly. This man Screws was not a good person. Besides dismembering robots, he was also depraved towards humans. He ate human flesh. Droog knew from experience that humans considered this to be the worst thing in the world. It indicated a very evil person. He did not want Sean to be anywhere near someone like that.

Matty and his gang stayed for another half an hour before agreeing on a deal and leaving with their traded goods. Droog went and stood in front of Sean, who was lying on the floor, not moving. Screws came over and tried to go to Sean, but Droog blocked his way.

“I see, I see,” Screws said with a laugh. “Protective little watchdog, you is.” He picked up a round, black device connected to a wire and put it on Droog’s head. “Stay, boy.”

Droog tried to move, but he could not. Electricity was going through him, freezing his limbs and gears. He stood like a statue as Screws picked Sean up and put him on the workbench.

“You’re on death’s door, aren’t you kiddo,” he murmured. “I’d best get you dressed up now before you die and start spoiling.” He put a oily basin underneath the bench and then reached down and pulled out a large knife.

He was going to kill Sean, Droog realized. In the other robot’s scan logs, Screws had done this before to other people. He tried to overcome the device on his head but he remained frozen, like ice.

At that moment, the electric light went out and Droog was suddenly free. Through his infrared senses, he could see Screws blundering around in the dark, fumbling with the battery pack for the lights. Droog moved towards him, scanning and trying to find a way to take him down. There. The man had a tumor growing just behind his knee, well within Droog’s reach. He reached up and pushed his small steel hand into the tumor.

Screws screamed and fell to the ground, holding his knee. Now was Droog’s chance, but he could not reach Sean on the workbench. He pulled on the workbench, but it was solid. He could not rescue Sean on his own.

Droog knew that the probability of Edward being in the area was very small, but still he went outside and started scanning, looking for known voice patterns. A match came up, but it was not Edward: it was Blake, the man who had found Droog and brought him to Cambridge, before he had gone down to Free Frall and met Edward. Blake was in a tent on the far side of the clearing. Droog went to him, bumping into the back of his legs to get his attention.

Blake was tall and middle-aged and always wore heavy leather clothing. He turned around and looked at Droog, then smiled.

“Well, it’s 8134, the little Russian ‘Munculus, isn’t it?” Blake referred to all his robots by the end of their serial numbers. “I’m surprised to see you again. Who are you with?” Blake always talked to him normally, even though Droog could never respond in English. Droog went back to Screws’ tent and Blake followed. Screws was sitting in a chair, still holding his knee. The lights were on, flickering weakly.

“So it’s you, Screws,” Blake said. “Do you own this little bot?”

“Yeah, I just traded for him, but the scrygging drob attacked me. He’s twisted for this boy.”

Blake’s eyes flicked to Sean. “You hungry, Screws? Listen, I like this little bot. He’s too good to end up in a place like yours. I’ll trade you for him, and the boy.” Blake took out a bag of food and opened it. Inside was meat, vegetables and even real fruit.

“You Insiders make me sick,” Screws said. He spat on the ground. “Coming outside the walls to lord your wealth over us.” Still, his eyes could not stray away from the food.

“So, we have a deal?” Blake asked. They bargained for a few minutes before agreeing. Blake gave Screws the food and picked up Sean. They walked ten minutes to a bridge across the canal and the gates of Cambridge. The guards nodded at Blake as they passed through.

“Welcome home, 8134,” he said.


Droog Comes Home – Part 1

After a long break, here is another story from the Aftermath story. Part 2 of it will be up tomorrow. It picks up right after the story Outside the Gates of Cambridge. It’s also about Droog and references Droog’s Story. The rest of the Aftermath stories are here. I’m also going to put up a glossary on the Aftermath page of all the slang terms used in these stories.

The slumsDroog the robot knew a lot of things. Through his scanners, he knew that the small boy that was sleeping in the dust in the corner of the hut—the one Edward called Sean—was dying. His kidneys were shutting down slowly. Droog did not have any feelings of sadness—he had no emotions at all—but he did hope that the boy would not die.

Long ago, on the day the world had ended, there had a been a boy he had promised to help. That boy had disappeared, but Droog had never stopped looking for him. Some part of his mind knew that he was probably never going to find that boy again. He still had his bio-rhythmic signature stored in his memory, but he had scanned thousands of people and had never found him again. Now he had a boy here that Edward cared about. It would be so much easier if this really was the boy he had been looking for all these years, the boy he had promised to protect. Then he and Edward would have the same goal.

Droog thought for a moment and then did something he had never done before: he intentionally overwrote his memory. He replaced the bio-rhythmic signature of the boy from long ago with Sean’s and suppressed the logic that said the time difference was too great for that to be true. And just like that, Sean was the boy he had been looking for, and had always been. And Droog was going to help him survive.

Droog did a scan of the surrounding area, as he did every few seconds and that was how he knew the three men would come into the house, seconds before the door banged open.

The lead man wore a expensive, but faded suit coat over his filthy overalls. He leered at the woman who was sitting at the table. “Hinsen gone?”

She flushed slightly and nodded. Droog watched as they flirted back and forth, dispassionately recording their attraction for one another. Then the man turned towards Droog.

“What’s this, a robot?”

“It’s a ‘Munculus Bot,” one of the other men said. “I know a guy who pays good for these.”

“We’re going to take this, okay love?” the first man said, with a wink. “Just tell Hinsen it ran away on its own.”

“It don’t belong to Hinsen anyway, Matty dear,” the woman said. “Some mudscrape brought it with him yesterday. You want the boy too?”

Matty shook his head with a laugh, then turned back to Droog. “You obey commands, right? Let’s go.”

Droog turned back and tried to pick up Sean. The frail boy opened his eyes but didn’t sit up.

“Come on, we ain’t going to bring him too,” Matty said. “Get going. I order you.”

Robots like Droog were usually programmed with a number of voice signatures when they arrived at their buyers. These were the master access voices and the robot was forced to obey them. Droog, however, had never been bought and did not have any master access voices programmed into him. He could decide whether to obey someone or not, although he usually obeyed unless there was a good reason. Now, however, he ignored the man’s request and tried to pick up Sean again.

“This piece of scrap is broken,” Matty said. “Jere, pick him up and let’s go.”

Jere, the burliest of the three, stepped forward and put his arms around Droog. Droog waited while the man strained and puffed: Droog knew that he weighed 130kg, despite his small size. Jere finally gave up and Droog turned back to Sean.

“Do you think he’ll come along if we take the boy?” Jere asked.

“I think you should try,” the woman said.

A couple minutes later, Jere walked through the fire-illuminated market street carrying Sean, while Droog followed behind.

Continued in Part 2


The Making of the Squid, Part 6

The Making of the Squid, Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

You can read the rest of the Aftermath stories here or here.

Well, this is the final installment of this story. Thanks for reading thus far. Please forgive the length of this one; I decided to just post it instead of breaking it into yet another installment. This last part is much darker, but after all, this is not the end of the story: it is the beginning. I will pick up with Edward “the Squid” Morrison again on the other side.

storm clouds

There was a storm brewing. For days now, they could see clouds seething in the south, thunder rumbling distantly, like a monster that was slowly wakening. It seemed to be growing, creeping ever so slowly towards them.

Harlow had become an unfriendly place for Edward. The other residents barely spoke to him now and the men worked together on the other cisterns, leaving Edward’s half finished.

Edward did not worry about this—he did not need their approval—but what did worry him was Sean. The boy was spending more and more time outside, staring off in the distance. Edward knew he was watching for his parents. He was becoming paler and had developed a cough.

Several days after Edward had gone to his last committee meeting, he was walking along route B180, back towards his old house. The afterglow of sunset was fading to black when a car drove down the road towards him, headlights glaring. It was the first working car he had seen in almost a month. It stopped and the window went down, revealing a woman wearing a diagnostics headset and stylish clothes.

Hestia's car

“Evening, crackerjack,” she said. “I thought this whole space was blitzoid. You the only one around here?”

“There’s a whole town of us, back there in Harlow,” Edward said. “You come from Cambridge?”

“Yeah, that much you know.” She took her silk-gloved hands off the wheel. “You do know about the storm coming? The gee-sees all show the radiation as being right up there. A regular slam-bang.”

“Is it any safer in Cambridge?” Edward asked.

“We have some deep cellars, but we’re probably all well snuffed together, you and us. Once it gets into the drinking water and we’re all swilling fallout cocktails, well…” She shrugged—what-are-you-gonna-do? “I came down on a scouting mission, looking for clues of its trajectory.”

A thought flashed through Edward’s head. This was his one chance. “Can you do me a favor? I have children at my house—orphans. Take some of them with you, if you can. I don’t want to, but I can’t take care of them all.”

The woman frowned, as if thinking. “Let me see them,” she said finally. “Hop in.”

The woman introduced herself as Hestia Wolfe. As they drove back to town, she showed him her e-device, with news and images from around the world, including pictures of the devastation of London. There was already a remnant of the UN that was trying to stagger back. The US capital had been moved to Denver. Wales had been untouched by the missiles, but decimated by fallout. The list of tragedies and triumphs went on and on, weighted heavily on the side of tragedy.

“We’re fortune-kissed to be in this area,” Hestia said. “The winds didn’t bring much our way—until now, it seems.”

Hestia met the children and they had dinner together. The kids had made a concoction of corn and pinto beans, with jellied cranberries on the side. Hestia complimented them on their skill and even had seconds. After the meal, she took Edward out onto the porch.

“I can take the four youngest ones,” she said. “Let me see: Ernesto, Kaveh, Cala, and Lalasa. Two boys and two girls. I’ll be able to find them good homes. They’re all relatively healthy and I know of a few families who will welcome them.”

“Will you sell them?” Edward asked.

“I will find them good homes,” Hestia repeated. “Money—or goods, I should say—will change hands, but that’s how the world works, you know? I’m not a human trafficker, if that’s what you mean.”

“I’d ask you to take Sean, but I don’t think he’d go. I’m worried about him.”

“I wouldn’t take him anyway,” Hestia said. “He looks pretty hacked up—sick, that is. I can’t take the risk.”

They went back in and Edward told the kids what was going to happen. They took it much better than Edward had expected. None of them clamored to go or begged to stay behind. Life had hit them with so much pain and uncertainty that the possible positives and negatives of going to Cambridge cancelled out into a dull neutral. Cala sat on Edward’s lap and cried a little, but when he told her to go get packed, she went upstairs with Lalasa without complaining. Hestia left with the four chosen kids thirty minutes later. Edward watched them go but no one waved good bye.

It was not until the next day that the house felt emptier. Hugo began to fight more with Meredith. Portia and Hazel retreated into their room and would not come out all day. Sean stood on the porch, looking flushed. Edward found him there in the evening, his legs curled against his chest, eyes glazed. His skin was on fire.

No, not him too. All Edward could think of was the shock of Ramya’s cold cheek against his hand. It couldn’t happen again. Edward put Sean to bed, got his gun, and went to the Crawfords’ house.

Nikola opened the door a crack when he knocked. She immediately tried to slam it shut again, but Edward stuck the butt of the rifle in the gap and forced the door open.

“For God’s sake, Edward, what do you want now?” Her voice was dull, but her eyes flashed with hate.

“Sean’s sick. I need you to come treat him, or at least give me some medicine. Please,” he added.

Nikola looked at him and then stepped forward and very deliberately spat on his shirt. “I wouldn’t treat you or any of your mud-grubbing pack of rat bastards to save my life,” she said. She spoke slowly, enunciating every word.

Eight-year-old Trav Crawford appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. Before Nikola could react, Edward strode towards him and pointed the rifle at his head. “Not to save your life, eh? How about his life? Is his life worth a bit of medicine to save my boy?”

Trav gave a small shriek and started to run towards his mother, but Edward pushed him back. Nikola was staring at him, frozen and pale. “Don’t hurt him,” she said softly. “Tell me the symptoms. I’ll tell you how to treat him, if you can.”

Edward described Sean’s condition to her. She went upstairs and came back with several small boxes of pills. Edward stayed behind with Trav.

“I can’t guarantee this will work,” she said, after she had told him how to give it to Sean. “Please, if he dies, don’t come take it out on us.”

“We’ll see,” Edward said. “Come on, Trav; you’re walking me to the door.”

Edward started to walk backwards towards the front door, holding Trav in front of him. Nikola gave a cry and leapt towards her son. Edward pointed the gun at her. At that moment, something hit him in the back. He slammed the butt of the rifle backwards, feeling it strike something solid. The gun went off and Nikola fell back, an expanding red hole in her blouse. Behind him, Noah Crawford lay on the floor, next to the piece of wood he had used to hit Edward. Edward left, quickly.

He ran all the way home, intent on getting back to Sean and unable to process what had happened. He had just killed someone—a mother, in front of her son. It had been an accident, of course, but it had still happened. He couldn’t think of it now.

He gave Sean the medicine as Nikola had instructed him. Then he set Portia and Hazel to watch him. He was just going downstairs when he heard a shot and a bullet ripped through the front door.

“Squid! Get out here, Squid!” He peeked out the side of the front window. Noah was standing in the street, holding Kaine Bowlery’s rifle. Kaine, Heston and few of the other men were standing nearby.

Edward opened the front door and stood to one side. “Go home, Noah. It was an accident. Just get out of here.”

“You killed my wife, you bastard!” Noah screamed and fired another shot through the doorway. “I’ll kill you. I’ll rip your guts out.”

Edward looked around. Where were Hugo and Meredith? The others were upstairs, but if a stray shot hit one of them…

“This is your last chance, Noah. I didn’t mean to shoot Nikola. It was an accident and I’m sorry, but don’t you dare fire that when my kids are around.”

“Your kids? You pointed a gun at my son’s head. You shot my wife!”

Edward stepped into the doorway and raised the rifle. He felt a bullet whiz by him and he fired. Noah fell to the ground.

Before anyone could react, Edward rushed out and grabbed the other rifle. Noah was not moving—the bullet had gone through his neck. “I didn’t want to do it,” he said.

Kaine Bowlery held out his hands and when he spoke, his voice shook. “Please, Eddie. We don’t want any trouble. Just go. Leave us in peace.”

“I can’t,” Edward said. “I have to stay here, for Sean. Take him and bury him. Then, go home.” They picked up the body and left without a word.

Over the next week, Sean was slowly restored to health. One evening, he and Edward were looking out the south window. Far away, the storm clouds still rolled and boiled, but they had not come any closer

“Aren’t they moving?” Sean asked. “I’ve never heard of a storm that didn’t move. Does that mean we’re safe?”

“No,” Edward said. “There’s no such thing as safe anymore. I don’t know what will happen, but that’s the world we live in now.”

They continued to watch the storm, as around them the darkness grew.

Epilogue

Time passed and they struggled on, against hunger, sickness, against the other residents of the town that gradually became known as Free Frall. Sickness ravaged the survivors, eating away at their numbers. The town began to decay and decline, as did its residents, until they were little more than ghosts, creeping forth at dusk to scrape out a miserable existence from the blighted earth.

Hugo died the first winter and a year later, Hazel. Edward buried them away from the house and with each death, he became more and more the Squid. Portia left four years later to join a group of wanderers and returned a year later to take Meredith with her, who was only eleven. Edward let them go. Then, it was only he and Sean.

One night, close to dawn, Edward returned home to find Sean gone. It took a week of searching for Edward to finally accept that he was not coming back and his transformation to the Squid was complete. He went out and stabbed the first person he met. He buried the body and tried to forget he had ever known anyone named Sean, or Portia, or Meredith, or even Ramya. The memories brought too much pain.

And so, Edward Morrison lived as the unofficial king of the decaying residential area known as Free Frall. They called him the Squid, and he liked it.

Aftermath

(continued in the story Saturday 4am)


The Making of the Squid, Part 5

The Making of the Squid, Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4

You can read the rest of the Aftermath stories here or here.

box of cans

“Eddie, what are we going to have for supper?” Sean asked. The older children were taking turns cooking supper, now that Edward was trying to do more work at night.

“I don’t care. Whatever’s in there.” Edward went to the pantry, pawed through the box on the floor, and pulled out two cans of sardines, canned potatoes, and canned tomatoes. “Here, we can eat this.”

“What, cold?”

“Or heat it up over the fireplace. I don’t care.”

“Lalasa doesn’t like tomatoes,” Sean said.

Edward clenched his fists in frustration. “Then don’t make them. I don’t care, but this is all we have. I will try to get more today, but I don’t have any control over what I find.”

“But—”

“Do whatever the hell you want, okay?”

Hazel put her head into the pantry. “Eddie, we’re almost out of Abadocil.”

“Then I’ll go get some more!” he shouted. He pushed past them, ignoring Hazel’s hurt expression. I can’t do this, he thought. I gotta get out of here.

Edward walked through the twilit streets towards the Crawfords’ house. They had moved the boxes of Abadocil there for convenience and to keep them safer from looters. He knocked on the door and Nikola answered.

“Hey. I need more Abadocil,” Edward said. “Just give me a case, so it’ll last a while.”

Nikola hesitated. “Eddie, we’ve decided not to give out any more.”

Edward looked hard at her. “What? To anyone?”

“No, just to those children staying in your house. We’re running low and it’s going to be gone soon.”

“So who decided that?”

“Noah and I. Listen, Eddie, I’ll give more for you, but we just can’t afford to give them all away, just like that.”

He stared at her until she looked away uncomfortably. “Why the children, Nikola? They only take half the dose an adult does. Are you stopping them for your children too?”

“No, just the ones in your house.”

“Just mine?” he shouted in disbelief.

“They’re not yours, Eddie,” she shot back. “If they were, we’d do something, but they’re not. They’re orphans. I don’t like it either—I hate it, but there’s nothing we can do. The truth is that if we use them all up, we could all die. It’s for the greater good.”

He continued to stare at her, too furious to speak. “Look,” she said. “All the Geiger counters are dead, but who knows? Maybe the radiation has decreased. Maybe they’ll be okay.”

“Maybe?” he shouted. He reached out and grabbed her by the throat, slamming her back against the door. “Maybe? Why don’t you stop the meds and see for yourself what maybe looks like, you scrygging cow?”

“Get your filthy hands off my wife, Eddie.” Edward turned and saw Noah just inside the door, pointing a hunting rifle at him. Edward let her go and she staggered back, gasping.

“This is what I’m going to do,” Edward said slowly. “I’m going to come in and take a case of Abadocil and I’m going to go home. Okay?”

“You don’t get to make the rules, Eddie,” Noah said. “You’re not the law.”

You’re not the law. The words echoed in Edward’s head. There was no law now. No law. It was an exhilarating, terrifying thought. He could do whatever he wanted, and so could anyone else.

“You’re wrong,” he said to Nikola, who was holding her throat and looking up at him with murder in her eyes. “When you said those children aren’t mine. They are mine now, and I’m going to do everything I can for them. Okay?”

Without warning, Edward grabbed the muzzle of the gun, thrusting it into the air. The rifle went off, shooting high. Edward smashed the stock back into Noah’s chest, knocking him down and wrenching the gun from his hands.

Five minutes later, Edward left, carrying the rifle and two cases of Abadocil. He had stuffed all the bullets he could find into his pockets. He strode down the road, cursing and kicking rocks furiously out of the way. He hated the Crawfords for trying to play God with his kids; he hated the Central Bloc for starting the war that ended civilization; he hated his own government for bungling negotiations and refusing to compromise on that small strip of land, which had ratcheted up tensions until there was no going back. He hated Ramya for dying and leaving him all alone, and he hated himself most of all: for losing his temper, for being weak and incompetent, and for thinking unfair thoughts about the dead. Tears started down his cheeks at the thought of Ramya and he hated them too.

Supper was ready when he got back. Sean and Portia had made a concoction of potatoes and sardines, mashed together and heated up, with tomatoes on the side in deference to Lalasa’s tastes. Edward had to admit it was pretty good, all things considered.

“Listen,” he said. They looked up at him expectantly. “I have medicine for all of us for a while. All of you have to take three pills a day, okay? No matter what. Make sure Ernesto takes his too. We have to hide it though because people might try to take it. I made some people mad today. Keep the doors locked all the time. Nobody—nobody except us ever comes in here, okay? Promise?”

He made them promise and the solemn looks on their faces showed him they understood the seriousness of the situation. He was glad.

“Now, there is a committee meeting tonight. I’d better go and make some things clear,” he said, standing up. “Lock the door and don’t worry; I’ll be back soon.”

The meeting had already started when he got there, but everyone stopped when he walked in. He carried Noah’s rifle, loaded, but held casually in one hand.

“What’s gotten into you, Eddie?” Kaine Bowlery asked. “Weren’t you the one that said this was about us, not you, and now you assault the Crawfords and steal medicine?” Noah was there, glowering darkly at him.

“Stealing?” Edward said. “I thought we were in this together. If one person refuses to help another, telling him that his kids can go die, is that any better?”

“Are you trying to be the boss, Eddie?” Kaine asked.

“I’m here to stick up for my own, and I’ll stick up for you too,” Edward said. “What if the Crawfords decide next week that there isn’t enough medicine for your family, Kaine? Or for you, Abdul? What if only the white people are allowed medicine, or only those whose last name is Crawford?”

A few people were nodding, but most looked doubtful. “We are going to have one rule in this town,” he continued. “Everything is free. Everything. It’s free for all. That means that if I have more than I need, then I’ll give to you, and if you have more than you need, you give to me. No hoarding.”

“You’ll never have more than you need with that gaggle of brats,” someone said. “It’ll just be you, taking and taking from the rest of us.”

“Hey, I took them in when none of you would. What can I do: I’m their Uncle Octopus.”

“More like a squid,” Noah said, “sticking your tentacles into everyone else’s business.”

“So a squid is worse than an octopus?” Edward asked, but no one answered. A few minutes later, he left and went home.

The next morning, Edward got up before sunrise and walked through the town, looking for untouched houses where he could scavenge for food. He walked past the main roundabout and saw a new message spray-painted under his:

It’s free f’r all, as long as you pay the Squid first.

For some reason, it amused him and he laughed as he continued on his way.

(to be concluded)


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