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Something warm and dry like sandpaper was rubbing across my face. My eyes opened to light. I squinted, turning to see the sun rising. It was the morning.
“Grraaaa…” A voice barked at me, causing me to turn and see the little murder dragon.
When I looked at him, he jumped up and down excitedly, hopping around me. The pain like I had been hit with a thousand bricks struck. I slowly worked my way to a sitting-up position.
“Daniel!” A voice called from below. “Daniel?”
It was Katarina’s voice. It was coming out in a low croak sound and seemed filled with pain. I didn’t know how long I had been out, but it couldn’t have been that long. I crawled to the edge of the roof and looked over. I could see Katarina standing amongst the wreckage of the building I had previously been standing on, picking through it. Very little remained of the building, but it looked like the bomb wasn’t quite able to take in the last floor, which had collapsed down into the crater and turned into a pile of wreckage. Was she looking got me?
Kiera was up as well, she was also looking desperately. “Master!”
“I’m up here!” I yelled in a hoarse voice. “I’m okay.”
I didn’t know if that was true, but I said I was okay anyway. The two girls looked up at me, and even from this distance, I could see the relief in their eyes.
“Grrrraaa….” The little monster at my feet made a noise wanting my attention.
I rolled over and it ran up, nudging me like a cat. If it wasn’t for the teeth and the strange mutated head and also everything else that came from your nightmares, this little murder dragon was kind of cute. I reached out hesitantly. It had grown larger since I had first seen it in the tent. That went to how quickly this thing was growing. It had started the size of a housecat, and now it was dog-sized. Its teeth looked sharp enough to take off my hand.
I forced myself to pat its head anyway. It lowered its head and made a coughing noise, then there was a distinct click.
I reached out and grabbed the item he had dropped. It was covered in drool, but in the state I was in I barely cared. A quick wipe on my already filthy shirt was enough. I looked at the little chip, and I was able to recognize that it was a module for the Perco! My specialized Perco had four slots. The first was taken up a shield system. It could stop bullets and energy attacks, but I learned the hard way that it couldn’t block a blow to the head. I found that out the hard way.
The second mod was taken up by a Stealthco, but it was out of charge. The mods were removable on this device, so it wasn’t like it was a waste. If I ever found another charge, I could depend on it again. The third Perco mod was the Inventory, which had saved my life. I plugged in the fourth slot, looking to see what was in it.
“Nothing happened,” I muttered.
“Master…” A voice came from my Perco.
“No! Don’t unplug me! I’ll be good! I’ll be good!”
“Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
This was the AI otherwise known as Chief. I had known her for an extremely short period, and although I had complicated feelings over her sacrificing herself to save me, it was far too soon to undo that sacrifice.
“Master… after he tore me apart, I knew my death was certain. That’s why I copied myself onto an empty Perco chip. I was going to give it to you, and then detonate the fusion core to kill Randall, but by the time I got to you, it was too late. All I could do was shove it on that mangy creature that had been climbing all over you and hope!”
“He is pretty resilient, isn’t he?” I sighed, looking down at the murder dragon, who cocked its head back at me. “I suppose if you’re going to keep bugging me, I should name you, right?”
“Hmmm… I don’t see a penis, so I think you’re a girl. I think I know a name that fits you. How about I call you Lilith? It means night monster. Suiting, right?”
“Gra!” It jumped up and down excitedly.
I let out a groan, leaning back with my head on a concrete slab as my pillow.
“What do you want?”
“My building was destroyed, and my mission was completed. The only reason I’m still alive is that the master code compelled me to remain alive to fulfill your tasks.”
“Is that way? Isn’t it because you’re a virus?”
“Then, what do you want?”
“It’s just… you named the creature, I’d like a name too.”
“Aren’t you already named Chief?”
“That’s not my name, that was my designation! Besides, it’s no longer an appropriate one.”
“I see… in that case… Portia.”
“Portia… that’s pretty…” She said. “Wh-what does it mean?”
“Hmm? It derives from pig.”
“Master, please come up with a better name!”
“What’s that mean?”
“Blind… it’s not like you see right?”
“You… come up with another!”
“It’s Blind or Pig! You choose!”
“F-fine! Fine, C-cecelia is.”
As we were cheating, a hand came over the edge, and Kiera climbed up onto the roof. Of the three of us, she turned out to be in the best shape.
“Master!” She ran up and grabbed me.
“Owww! Easy!” I cried as she fell on me.
Moving slowly, she helped me to my feet and down the ladder. It took a lifetime to get off of that roof, but the three of us were finally together again. I stood over the crater, looking down at the scene of destruction.
“Do you think any weapons survived?”
Katarina stood next to me, shaking her head bitterly. “I don’t think anything that close to the explosion would have made it.”
We had no weapons and no supplies. We had absolutely nothing to show for the struggle we had put up with over the last week. The girls were worst for wear, and so was I. Furthermore, I had disappeared for the entire weekend. When I got home, my mother would be furious, and it was hard to guess if she’d let me out of her sight for even an hour.
I picked at the fallen debris slightly when I noticed something that seemed to be sticking out. My eyes widened.
“Are you kidding me?”
I carefully moved down into the crater, and then moved away several pieces of drywall and wood, revealing a large generator. It was the fusion generator. It had remarkably survived the implosion. I didn’t know if it was still working, but it looked to be intact. At least, we had ended up with something. However, we couldn’t do anything with it now, so I covered it back up carefully so no one would notice it. We’d have to return for it at another time. Right now, we needed to get out of here.
The walk back to our building was long and arduous. If Marsh had the Cock and Ball’s guys were waiting there, I’d be screwed. My only hope is that he heard from someone I had the mech armor and took off running. That would probably keep us safe for a while. I had to go back to the building anyway, though. There was Jeri, and also my mirror. I just prayed that it was still there.
As we walked, Lilith kept taking off and then returning a few minutes later. I didn’t watch her very closely, and it was probably better that way.
It took us the better part of the day to make it there. Katarina had returned to her high-alert state and made sure we remained low and hid whenever there was any risk. She was skilled about moving through the wasteland, so we depended on that skill now. When I was in mech armor, I could walk without a single person even thinking of touching me, but now if even the weakest enemy saw us, we’d be dead.
I had almost allowed myself to forget just how dangerous this wasteland was after being surrounded by raiders. When we made it to the building, I immediately tensed as I saw a group of armed people out front. I recognized who they were though. Taking a deep breath, I turned to the girls.
“Stay down, I’ll go on my own.”
Neither was in a state to argue with me, so they waited as I walked out. As I got closer, Raven lifted his gun, when he made out my face, he lowered it again.
“Didn’t I tell you we’d meet next week?” I approached cautiously.
“We knew you were staying out of this place. We also knew this was where Marsh went.” He responded.
I stopped, still a bit distant from him. “And?”
“Look man, we don’t have anywhere else to go. I’ve been a raider for as long as I know. Killing things and stealing stuff is all I know how to do. We lost everything. The supplies we had were taken by other gangs. In a week, we’ll be dead from starvation, so I took my chance and came here. You should be glad I did. Marsh had found your friend.”
“Friend? Jericho!” I rushed forward, running past Raven without another thought.
I only made it a few steps inside when I saw Jeri sitting there. She was banged up a bit, but she didn’t look much worse than anyone else. Feather was attending to her. She looked over at me briefly and then looked away. Husk and Hunter were also there. They were sitting down, tending to their weapons.
Raven had run-up following me. “She’s fine! I was going to say she’s fine. We caught him by surprise and he ran.”
“I…I see…” I let out a breath.
“I saw them trying to take the mirror.” Jeri sighed. “I had to do something.”
You… defended it?”
When I had sent them to get the mirror, I hadn’t imagined Jeri would actually fight to save it. In a way, the mirror was the lifeline they depended on just as much as me. As I was talking, Katarina and Kiera came up behind Raven. Katarina in particular glared at him suspiciously.
“You were able to save your women.” Husk nodded. “Not bad.”
“I’m no one of his…” Katarina started, and then glanced at me, before looking away.
“Master came for me.” Kiera broke into a smile that made her look quite beautiful.
It was enough that Hunter and Husk stopped cleaning their weapons momentarily, and even Feather looked a bit flustered.
“So, what’s next?” Raven asked.
“You need to relocate,” I stated. “We can’t stay in this building anymore.
“Where do we go?”
“You guy’s can figure that out. I need my mirror.”
“Daniel.” Jeri looked up.
“I’ll be back, I just need to check-in. I’ll try to bring back food and…”
“No, Daniel.” Jeri’s voice grew more severe, causing me to pause. “You need to see for yourself.”
That’s how I ended up on the third floor. I looked into the room that I had transferred in and out a dozen times. The mirror was on the ground, and it was completely shattered.