himself to the map, glancing at the decrepit buildings ahead of them. “Roughly that way, about eight miles.”
“Lead on,” Paisen said.
Grip proved to be an inexhaustible conversationalist on their journey, but despite her annoyance, Paisen let him ramble, dialing up her long-range hearing to ensure she sensed any danger over the noise of his chatter. They walked through the morning, stopping for a short lunch break under the awning of a blasted hotel building at midday, and then continuing through the afternoon. From time to time, the sled routed them around radiation zones. Once, their badges buzzed a warning that they had entered an uncharted area with significantly higher radiation.
“Just back up until it stops buzzing,” Grip advised. “Then we’ll backtrack a bit and go around.”
“How much did we get exposed to?” Paisen asked, checking her badge.
“Not much,” Grip assured her. “Was probably from that rain puddle. If we’d stepped in the puddle, it might have been a different story. You want to stay away from any low-lying areas in general, and run-off water in particular. “
“What happens if you get too high of a dose?”
Grip kicked a brick down the sidewalk, out of the sled’s path. “Depends. There’s an infirmary back at the compound, but it’s a long trip back. And it’s not a fancy hospital or nothin’. If you recover, you get a nice cushy work detail like laundry or gardening for the rest of your sentence, though.”
“You’d still suffer from the long term effects of radiation poisoning,” Paisen pointed out.
“Mm-hm. The staff tell everyone this place is a ‘rehabilitation center,’ but that’s a load of shit,” he spat. “You came in a criminal, ain’t no amount of rad-sifting going to change that. We’re free labor, and that’s what we’re worth to them – exactly nothin’. Tina here’s worth more, if it comes to it,” he slapped the side of the sled affectionately.
They reached the sector Grip had picked by the middle of the afternoon, and Grip soon found a building he thought looked promising: a hexagon-shaped office complex, whose hollow center contained what remained of a small outdoor park. One side of the hexagon had collapsed, spilling concrete and steel girders back into the park. Paisen looked around at the other buildings, and judged that the collapsed wall had been facing the nearest nuclear bomb’s detonation point, and therefore had taken the brunt of that bomb’s blast. Grip powered Tina down and clambered up onto the rubble.
“Let’s head on in. Stay with me for a few rooms so you get a sense for what we’re looking for, then we can split up.” He stopped and handed her a pair of heavy work gloves. “You’re going to need these,” he said.
“For the radiation?” she asked.
“No,” Grip said, grinning crookedly. “For the bodies. Mostly skeletons by now, but they do tend to get in the way, so you’ll need to move some sooner or later. Gets messy.”
Paisen had seen several bodies during their walk out to the site, but there were many more inside the buildings. They found that the building had already been plundered for the more valuable items like electronic components, but Grip judged it was worth searching for other items, namely consumer goods that were still in working order. They worked together for the rest of the afternoon, carefully entering rooms, backing out if their badges protested, and slowly filling Tina’s cargo bed with usable items – a stack of chairs, half of a broken viewscreen, several boxes of cutlery and dishes from a cafeteria, and a large spool of electrical cable from a storage closet.
On Grip’s recommendation, Paisen searched the second floor for some time on her own, then as the sun began to set, she descended back down a fire stairwell and made her way through a row of cubicles to the crumbled entrance. She saw Grip crouched behind a twisted set of girders, and at the same instant, her
Jessica Conant-Park, Susan Conant