Answer as fast as you expected. You want to fight. You will not die here, you will never have a heavy humiliation like when the Family caught you.
Declare your desire to join the fighters and Uncle Malcom stare at you with an amused look.
– Really, meat? They told me how they got you … do you really think you’ll be able to kill someone?
You don’t answer. Uncle bends over you and feels his disgusting rancid meat breath.
– Yeah, you can never know. You are young and healthy, something we will do with you. Guys … put it in Gift Package.
The youngsters of the Family are dragging you away again in chains. You do not understand. You thought they would release you, given a weapon maybe. Instead they charge you and the others on a stingy cattle truck, along with some fifty prisoners. Most people are full of bruises and abrasions, think of your torturers’ torture. You still don’t know how much you’re wrong. The Family Starts. Motorcycles, cars, vans, somehow still running. Two days arrived at the destination: a Mobile Outpost, half a dozen vehicles of medium size and about twenty souls in all. They stopped for food and your avant-gardes discovered them. It is finally time to come into action, says Uncle. His exact words are “Prepare a Gift Package for Ten People!”. Then he licks his lips and smiles.
The Gift Package is a family battle technique that utilizes two of the greatest truths of the Postworld: the low lethality of the Shocker and the abundance of slaves.
Get chained to nine other prisoners, most messed up much worse than you. Driven by punches, Shocker shots and whacks, get sent to the victims, who see you emerge from the trees with an alarmed expression of surprise and disgust.
The guards react with precision and readiness, this is real: a shake of Shockers overwhelms you, breaking bones and making a bloody pain. But that’s why you are chained: those who are standing drag others, forcing them to advance. You’re pretty soon on them, even if a couple have their heads smashed by the multitude of shots. Surround them without technique, or finesse, or weapon. Only the weight of despair. Bite and scratch and kick. Take your first life, choking with a chains a boy who will have at most sixteen years. His eyes stinging between surprise and impotence sweep away the last pangs of compassion that remain to you, then watch him run out of convulsions of suffocation. When you’ve got rid of the avant-gardes, the Family goes out and knocks down all the survivors with the Shocker and knives. They don’t save anyone.
Six of your group survive.
In the next battle, three.
After that, remain alive in two. With the last enemy cut down, break the head to your partner using a stone. That bastard was rubbing the knife of a fallen man, and you wanted it for you. And then that asshole to fight was really scarce, and too thin to be a human shield of some value.
You’re a Gift Pack for a whole month of raids, accumulating precious experience. You know how to protect yourself from the Shocker, using the bodies of the less awkward companions to absorb the worst gusts. Learn how to use chain weight to stun and choke. You know how to terrorize a person with a snarl and recognize the look of those who have a hidden weapon. The Family is an inhuman school, but it does make you want to be: a survivor. A warrior. A murderer.
In the end, the Uncle recognizes your merits and decides to promote you. Get rid of the chains, and for the first time after months, you consume a real meal: stewed (you don’t know and don’t care where the meat is coming from) and something alcoholic and terrible they call Moonlight Glow. With your full belly, they will give you a change of gown and a new Shocker. Without bullets. You will have them in battle, they tell you. You can keep the knife hidden, because you never know and you’ve finally learned not to trust.
You’re not ashamed to admit that the next two weeks are the most beautiful of your life.
Fight and kill, and even though most of the time they are smaller and smaller convoys, the sense of superiority pervades you. You’re no longer the young, ridiculous kid who ran away from home. Now Vastness is your kingdom. You know when wearing a gas mask and how to handle a Shocker, hitting where it hurts. You’ve lost the count of the people you killed, and even though you deny it to yourself, you know you’ve probably eaten too many. This is the worst thing: it doesn’t bother you to become a warrior … but don’t bear your cannibal bugs. You know that behind the smiles and bumps on your shoulders you still consider only a useful piece of meat. You are not of the Family. No one will do anything to save your life, you just will not be able to fight anymore, they’ll kill you and eat.
No, you’re not a slave, you’re a strong man, a veteran now. You will go away from these people and you will find a group of people who don’t survive devouring each other.
Day after day, you are thinking about how to escape: yes, enjoy some freedom, but you pass nights with other warriors like you in a cage. However, this forced coexistence has allowed you to find other capable people who would like to engage in your escape plan. But who do you trust? Maybe somebody is a family infiltrator, put there to spy on you. No, exclude it. You know them by now. They are crazy and consider you zero. But you have to choose a good one: your partner can depend on the success or failure of your evasion.
After many reflections, you’ve chosen the most promising and trusted companions:
Masha is a young girl, but smart and snapping like a snake. She kills with grace and consummate skill, and you have no idea when she has taken her first life, but surely long before that. Her clothes, though worn, show class and elegance, something really unusual in the Postworld. She does not bring anyone near, but sometimes she whispers into sleep. “My companions are coming to pick me up,” she repeats. Well, if it is true, you want to be her friend when it happens.
Galvax is the best fighter among you. A huge and tanned man wears a fortune armor made of sheet metal and rubber that has been clearly tailored to him. It is the only one of you to shave every day, using a piece of glass, and never cut. NEVER.
In battle doesn’t use the Shocker, considering it a ridiculous weapon, and kills its opponents with punches, ragged or disintegrating the stock of the other Shockers directly into their jaws. It would not be your most discreet ally, but surely the most gifted with brute force.
Dommie is the least formidable in battle, but he surely know what he’s doing. Dry and graceful, he knows how to handle a Shocker well and has quick and accurate hands to tear eyes and hit the throat. In fact, he is definitely expert in the human body, which makes him, among other things, an excellent healer. Whatever he did before, the boy has studied and applied his knowledge to get to the best in captivity. You wonder how he did to survive the Gift Package, but it doesn’t matter: Dommie could provide you with the medical care that you would definitely need while fleeing the Vastness.
TO THE NEXT CHAPTER