It was when I was skinning a rabbit, poorly, that I noticed: I had started talking to myself. "Whatever, it'll just be more gamey," I said.
I had been alone in the Wastes for a week--longer than any of my camping trips. I wasn't having much trouble staying alive, but the lack of company was murder. I know, it's weird. Back then, in my home, I spent most of my time wanting to be alone. But, once I finally had it, absolutely, all I could think about was the look on my mom's face when she found out I was a murderer.
Murderer. I couldn't go an hour without reminding myself, out there in my first time on my own in the Wastes. "I'm Silvia Iglesias," I said. I wanted to follow that with how I wasn't a murderer, but that was how the law saw me, and I was inclined to agree.
It's not that I regretted what had just happened; Sergio and his gang were awful, and I did what I had to in self-defense. I regretted my whole life. All of the choices I made that turned me into a cold-blooded killing machine, and eventually led me away from my home and family. I'll never know how many were actually bad. After I saw my would-be final target playing with his baby, I began to wonder just how many good people I had killed under Sergio's orders.
Maybe Sergio was the real bad guy all along. It was certainly possible; I didn't pay any attention to his politics. Just his strong, teenager-indoctrinating rhetoric. And even by then, I didn't care about that, either. I just cared about getting out.
"I'm an idiot," I said to myself, or maybe to that dead rabbit, the only company I would have for a good long while. I decided, I didn't deserve to hold my gun anymore. Every fiber of my being was telling me to bury it and never use it again, except the ones that cared about my survival. I listened to them. I kept the gun. I wasn't a complete idiot.
In the beginning, I hoped that maybe I could find another dome. One that had no idea who I was and could take me in. Turns out, there aren't nearly as many of them as you'd think. I spent the next three years on my own. There were a few towns here and there, settled by fellow dome-leavers, but half of them didn't speak my language. As for the other half? Well, even after all that, I never stopped being a bit of a recluse, and none of those towns had anyone worth sticking around for. Still, I had my share of festivals, fights, and flings in that time. I was often not literally alone, even though I felt it most of the time.
After 3 years, at the age of 20, I decided to go back home. I didn't care for the Wastes or anyone in it, and I wanted to see my mom again. Maybe after my self-exile, they had forgotten me, or at least enough to notice me on the street.
Maybe. I never made it back to find out. It was a long voyage back, and I wasn't even halfway before some guys with ancient pre-war revolvers took me by surprise. I knew how many bullets were in my pack, and I couldn't afford another fire-fight, so I feined surrender. Once they were within punching distance, I'd find a way out, I told myself. But, these weren't any ordinary raiders. They had real martial arts training, and they won that fight, eventually overpowering me and tying me up.
I still had no idea what or why when they started guiding me to their dome. Not that I knew that was where I was going at the time--they didn't speak the same language as me. Theirs was plainer and slower than mine, almost like each syllable was more deliberate,
I tried to escape a couple times along the way. First, I used the old "I have to go to the bathroom" trick. I couldn't say that in their language, but the universal language of touching my thighs together and putting my hands downstairs conveyed it well enough. Unfortunately, they sent a guy with me to watch, and I was beaten when they found out I didn't actually need to go.
After that, we were walking through some narrow canyons that ran deep through the red landscape. At the right moment, I shook their grip off my arms and ran into one of the crevices. For a while, they couldn't find me, but then I got lost myself. Eventually, I ran into a small creek hidden in the stone maze, and just that very first step into loud, splashing water alerted them to my position.
When we finally got there, it wasn't much of a dome. There was a massive, violent hole in it, making up about a third of its surface, and the entrance wasn't a high-security hidden door like mine--it was a hole blasted into the wall.
The scenery inside was even stranger. Somehow, out of the cement-and-iron bits of what was once the dome's ceiling, they had constructed a medieval castle. It was picturesque, surrounded by hilly grasslands, forests, and even a moat. No drawbridge, though--just a normal one. What was left of the dome was more like a circular wall surrounding the keep and its countryside, just tall enough to keep danger out, but short enough to let the sunlight inside.
I instantly wondered how they were keeping all of that nature intact, when right outside the walls was a barren desert. My dome's society and technology were completely untouched by the war and the ravages of post-apocalyptic humanity, so we still had artificial sunlight, free of radiation or greenhouse gases, and recyclable water. And yet, there I was, staring at the kind of untamed nature that I thought had gone extinct before I was born. Part of me began wondering if there was some way to stay there, without being a prisoner, and after I went back to see my mom again.
Eventually, I finally ended up in my ultimate destination: a dungeon. A classic, honest-to-goodness dungeon, complete with a skeleton and another prisoner who looked like he'd been there long enough to forget what sunlight was like.
I tried to talk to him, but he spoke their language, too. He must have been a citizen there, until he pissed them off somehow, I thought. The room was too dark to see anything, and both of us were bound in chains. From the scars all over his body, I assumed my inmate must have tried to escape at least a few times. I motioned my bound hands to him, trying to make a gesture that said, "How do we get out of here?" He shook his head. He must have given up a long time ago.
Undeterred, I decided that I would have to get us out myself. I came up with a plan. I had no idea whether he had already tried it, but even if he had, there were two of us now. I grabbed a nice, big legbone from the skeleton and moved it behind my back, under my hands. Then, I used my iron chains to break it in half. I gave him one half, and hid the other down the back of my pants. He hid his, too.
The wait was murder. I couldn't exactly talk to this guy while I waited, and we had barely met each other, anyway. Actually, I think the fact that we couldn't try to talk to each other was more of a blessing than an annoyance.
Eventually, some guards came with his next meal. I noticed there wasn't one for me--maybe they were trying to break my spirit or something. It didn't matter. They unlocked the door and came inside, and one of them went to hand my new friend his food. He spit in his face. Overtaken by rage, the guard almost attacked him, until I jumped up from my knees, turned in mid-air, and kicked him down. Another guard came after me. I had to be quick. I swept my bound legs back to me, got out of the laying position that kick had brought me to, and jumped up. With my hands tied behind me, I turned my back to the approaching guard, pulled the bone out of my pants, and sliced his neck open.
The other prisoner looked at what I had just done with wide eyes and a gaping mouth, before headbutting his own guard back down. I couldn't tell if he was impressed or horrified. Maybe both. Either way, that explained why he hadn't escaped yet. He didn't have the moves.
There were two more guards in that group, and they were going after each of us in a hurry. I had to spend a while dodging mine, before I had an opening to push him over with the top of my head. I turned my back to him and stabbed him in the heart, moving down and up in one fluid motion.
My partner was having a little more trouble. He could only headbutt them so many times, and had resorted to biting, but he was losing a fight against two opponents. Swaying my hips and carefully cradling my bone, I used the force of my body to throw my bone at one of the guards, and it dug into his side. While both guards were dumbfounded, my fellow prisoner took his chance to turn around and dig his bone into that same guard's heart.
But, now there was still one living guard, and neither of us had weapons. While the two of them were busy fighting, I searched the other three, and managed to find a ring of keys. It took me a while to try each one, and my friend was getting beaten up, but eventually I unlocked my arms and legs and was free. In one fast motion, I pulled a bone out of the third dead guard, grabbed the last living one, pulled him away from my friend, and slit his throat. Then, I took the keys and unlocked the stranger's chains, and we ran out of our cell.
The dungeon's hallway was also dark, but not nearly as dark, because lit torches were placed along the walls. Soon enough, we almost ran into more guards, and quickly hid behind a spot where the wall stuck out. My new friend looked me in the eyes and put a finger to his lips. For the first time, I could see him up close. He was covered in facial hair, the kind that takes years to grow, and his eyes were filled with fear, regret, and excitement.
I shook myself out of my thoughts and gave him a nod. Then, he ran back to our cell, and emerged wearing a guard's clothes. It also looked like he used something sharp to do whatever he could to his beard in such a short time to make it look cleaner, but it was still long enough to hide the bloodstains from a slit neck.
He walked up to the guards and had a conversation with them in their own language. After they left, he motioned to me and we went onwards. Eventually, we made it outside of the dungeon with our confiscated weapons (my rifle and his revolver), then the castle, then past the moat, and finally, we were out of the dome.
At this point, the natural decision would've been to go our separate ways, but I think we saw value in each other that kept us together. He noticed my fighting skills, and he seemed a lot wiser than me. He shrugged in a gesture of "What now?" Probably because he couldn't return home after his imprisonment, and had no idea where to go. I pointed back in the direction that I had come, towards home. I had a feeling he'd like a change of scenery, and despite the lack of nature, the modern technology in my dome certainly made life easier.
The next morning, I awoke to find him fiddling with my gun. I immediately sat up. "No! Don't touch that! It's mine!" I shouted in my own language. I was also worried, because its technology was far ahead of his own, and he could've accidentally shot one of us or something.
When I furiously grabbed my rifle, he let me, and put his hands up, as if to say, "Sorry, I didn't know." That made me feel bad for my reaction. Out of guilt, I decided to teach him. I presented the gun to him, currently in the shape of a handgun, and unfolded it into a rifle. By the look on his face, it was clear that he'd never seen that before.
"Gun," I said, plainly. I suddenly had an urge to try to teach him my language. I pointed at his revolver. "Gun," I said again.
"He thought for a moment, and then carefully pointed at his revolver. "Gun," he said in my language. Then he pointed at my rifle. "Gun." I nodded.
Time for lesson 2. "Rifle," I said, showing him my gun again. Then, I folded it back into a handgun. "Pistol," I said. He grabbed it, and I let him. "Pistol," he said, before unfolding it and saying "Rifle." I nodded again.
Then, I pointed at his gun and said, "Revolver." He repeated the word and I nodded.
He pointed at the campfire and said what must have been his own word for "fire." I repeated it, learning my first word of a new language, and he smiled.
We went on like that for a while, pointing at various objects and teaching each other our languages. Finally, I realized we didn't know what to call each other. I put the palm of my hand on my chest and said, "Silvia."
He pointed at me and repeated my name. I smiled. Then, he put his hand on his chest, too, and said, "Harold."
In about a month, we finally made it back to my dome. I took in the scene that I hadn't seen in over 3 years, that had once been my home. Nothing changed while I was gone. At least, not on the outside.
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