After the Last War, humanity lay in ruins, a product of its overzealousness in all things righteous and scientific. Cities that once stood as great testaments to humanity’s triumph over existence had become little more than deserted wastelands, inhabited only by the strange survivors of the apocalypse. The Confederate Governments of Europe and the Americas had placed the sum total of their technological prowess’ into the perfection of chemical and biological lethality. The Emperorship of Asia and the United Soviet Republics of the Middle East had jointly harnessed the power of the leptom and the quark, resulting in the eventual creation of the Extratomic Bomb. While working against one another, the leaders of man had all inadvertently contributed to its final destruction.
The governments of man existed now only as a memory; any semblance of social order left following the Last War had been replaced by chaos and famine. Few of the survivors had been able to cope with the thorough devastation that had become civilization, as many of them had been so reliant on the routine of the system that the notion of simple survival was incomprehensible to them. Most fell victim to the plague relatively quickly; those that did not succumb so quickly were transferred into fodder for the more adept members of society: marauding bands of murderers, thieves, and rapists. Those that did join the roving gangs that controlled much of the modern landscape but had managed to survive as lone wolfs either devolved into cannibalism and eventually died from consuming infected meat, while others simple wandered aimlessly through the ethereal plain.
And then there were rumors…rumors of survivors that had not spiraled into the dark abyss that had consumed humanity. While nice society had turned a blind-eye to the plight of the addicts during the heyday of modernity, an enzyme resistant to the plague had cultivated itself within the bodies of these once unfortunate souls. Though certainly not a cure, something in the way of an immunity had developed in the last of the world’s junkies, leaving this single subculture to restart civilization. These were the ones without any desire for the straight-life, who had given up on the routine and systematic nature of life in the real world. Who knew what it meant to be sick, and had spent lifetimes adapting to the hunt…the hunt for survival. The hunt for wellness, for the sake of functionality. Who knew what it meant to live in the shadow of the rest of the world, fighting for every scrap, every fix, no matter what the cost. These were to be the heroes of the apocalypse, forgotten junkies waking up to find a world they loathed finally destroyed. These were the Addictizens, the Strange Survivors.
Nevik Rush lifted his head from a slumber that felt like an eternity. Peering through the crack in the boarded up window of his squat, he could see that the desolation of the world had not disappeared overnight. Rather, a Straight slowly dragged itself up the street, emptiness glowing from its’ eyes. The blond hair that had once been so perfectly groomed now looked dirty against the tattered and bloody blouse hanging off the body. This was not a viral, waiting for the last stages of the disease to extinguish her life, but a non-adept – a child of the Last War, unable to reconcile the many horrors that had come to define the world in the years following zero-day.
“Help…somebody please help. My husband, my daughter…they’re killing us all…” the girl’s shallow voice was drowned out by the roar of pursuing engines. Nevik watched as the gang of death rovers surrounded her, the taunts and jeers of the hungry men and women audible over the hushed-rumbling of the solar-powered speederbikes and all-terrain vehicles that had become the last modes of transport after society’s collapse.
“Hey girl, don’t run. We’re here for you now, ain’t that right boys? You gonna be just right with us.” The assumed leader of the pack dismounted his speederbike as he looked the girl up and down. Dressed in an ensemble outfit comprised of various leathers and the skins of fallen meals, the man was more than gruff. The stench emanating from the gang was palpable, causing Nevik to cover his nose and mouth as the stench penetrated the deserted motel he had made home. The large bowie knife attached to the hip of the leader appeared larger than the girl as it was unsheathed, eliciting tears of fear as it flashed in her eyes. “Come on now, girl, don’t you be ‘fraid now…we don’t want you…at least not to eat.”
The howling laughter from the pack of rovers that followed the leader’s revelation was broken by the sound of more vehicles approaching, dragging the beaten and abused bodies of the girl’s family behind them. “We got ‘em, Ruiny, where do you want ‘em?” The obvious second-in-command sat on his vehicle waiting the leader’s command.
Equally as degenerate, the stench seemed to grow, and Nevik had to use what little self-control he had to prevent himself from vomiting. It was early in the day, and he had not yet fed, and so his body was weak with hunger. He looked around the burned-out room that he had lived in for the previous couple of weeks; no evidence of life remained, but for the few empty pill bottles and cook spoons that littered the floor. Certainly there was no sign of Shayva, his running mate and wife. This worried him, as they had survived as long as they had as a team, and the prospect of confronting this sick old world on his own was more than he could fathom.
The growing excitement of the rovers forced Nevik to turn back to the hideous display taking place on the abandoned street just outside his makeshift home. Quietly, he inched closer to the window. Although this kind of savage debauchery had turned him off since before the Last War, he could not help but watch, as he hoped the sight of such brutality might stave off the nausea rapidly growing in his belly.
The rovers had formed a circle around the girl and their leader, hooting and hollering as the gruff man came closer to perpetrating unspeakable acts of deviance against the girl. “See there?” The leader motioned to the mangled bodies of the girl’s family, “we got all the food we can eat, at least for a few days. I tell you what we don’t have nearly enough of, good ol’ fashioned pussy, and I’m betting you got some top-shelf snatch under them rags.” The leader ripped at the girl’s clothes as he spoke, tearing her tattered garment off with disdain, leaving her standing in the circle with nothing more than worn shoes, thin panties, and a silver cross on a silver chain to shield her from the drooling ogles of the pack. “So then,” the leader took a step back from the girl, admiring her body as he did, “I suppose the choice is yours – you can join us, serving the boys…”
A female voice erupted from the rovers, interrupting the leader, “don’t forget us girls!” Mocking laughter erupted once more from the circle of speederbikes.
“And girls – Molly I would never forget you – serving our desires as we see fit…or you can join that mess you used to call a family, serving us in totally different kind of way.” The leader pointed the long, sharp blade of his knife at the corpses still attached to the ATV. “Now, what’ll it be?” Silence overtook the gangly group as they waited in pseudo-anticipation for the girl’s response.
“I can’t…I can’t. I’ve only been with Robert…and he’s dead.” The girl clutched the tiny cross as she spoke. “Our father, who art in heaven…”
“Oh stop with that shit already. What has he ever done for you?” The leader slid his knife between the cross and the girl’s white skin, flinging the trinket to the ground, slightly cutting her in the process. The girl fell to the ground, clutching her wound. The sight of the red blood against her white skin caused another surge of excitement to swell through the pack as the prospect of fresh meat became too much to conceal.
The girl whimpered as she sat on her knees, “I can’t…I can’t…I can’t…”
The leader grabbed the girl by her dirty blonde hair and pulled to her feet; the pack of death rovers cheered in approval. “You can,” the leader squeezed the girl’s body as he spoke, “and you will.” He tossed the dazed girl to the nearest rovers, “now, hold her”. The rovers held the girl over one of the speederbikes, fondling her body as they did. The leader took his place behind and began to unleash the ultraviolence on her. The girl did not cry, as she had already died inside long ago. The leader finished, and another rover took his place, then another, and another.
The graphic scene unfolding outside his boarded-up window became too much to endure, as Nevik began to feel the nausea overpower him. As quietly as possible, he stood on his shaky legs and made his way into the small bathroom of the motel room. Crumpled in the corner, next to the toilet, was Shayva. Nevik whispered to his only friend, “We’ve got to go, Shay, now. There’s a pack of death rovers out there doing in a family of three.” Shayva’s sedated eyelids fluttered as she struggled to focus on the only person she could trust. “There’s not nearly enough for all of them, so they’ll be coming through here any minute.” Nevik dry heaved as quietly as he could. “Come on, let’s go”.
Shayva did not move, but only stared at her partner. “Not until I fix; I’m not going anywhere till I fix.”
Wiping the stomach bile from his chin, Nevik tried to reason with her. “If we don’t go now, we’ll end up eaten, or worse. Let’s do it.”
Shayva’s voice switched to scathing, and she was yelling at him, as she usually did when she felt the sickness coming on. “Fuck you Nev, I know you’re holding, feed me now or we’re not going anywhere.”
“Damn it Shay, keep your voice down, they’ll hear you, and then we’re through.” Nevik hurried back to his travelpack and began searching for the last Proponinol injections he had saved. He had two, and had planned on rationing them over the course of the next few days, but this clearly would not be the case; his junkie wife had breached the ration schedule and used everything she had the night before. Returning to the bathroom, Nevik pressed one of the injectors against Shayva’s shoulder without saying a word, administering a 24-hour release shot, then did the same to himself. “There. Are you happy? Now we have none. So can we please get the hell out of here before we end up like them?” Nevik motioned to the window, though the scene taking place outside was not visible from the bathroom.
The Proponinol shot was fast-acting, and as her pupils took on the form on tiny pinpoints, Shayva smiled, futilely trying to lift herself from where she sat on the dirty floor, next to the vomitus toilet. “Oh yeah, baby, I’m ready now.” Shayva put her hand on Nevik’s crotch as he helped to steady her weak legs. “I’m ready for a piece of this.”
“Not now, Shay, I’m telling you, they’re right outside.” Nevik swatted her hand away and returned to the bedroom to gather their few belongings.
Shayva followed him, clumsily balancing herself on the walls of the motel room. “What are you talking about, baby? There’s no one here but us.”
Frustration took over Nevik’s sense of rationality, as he angrily hoisted the travelpack onto his shoulders, motioning to the boarded-up window as he spoke. “Outside, Shay, they’re outside.”
As he added a dab of water to a soiled cook-spoon, preparing to pour the narcotic resin into his nasal cavity, Shayva fumbled her way to the window. “I don’t see nothing…are you fucking high, or what?”
Nevik snorted the narcotic solution up his nose, rolling his head back as he did. “They’re out there, Shay, I just watched them commit ultraviolence on a family of three.” Sure that he had collected any usable paraphernalia left over by himself or earlier inhabitants, he moved to the bathroom. The narcotic lust of the propopinol shot had begun to take over his conscious self, and he felt his stomach convulse as it prepared to evacuate what little sustenance he had consumed during the last few days. Nevik allowed his stoned body to plop onto the dirty seat of the toilet, then threw-up on the floor of the dirty bathroom. “Can we please just get the fuck out of here, please?” Nevik stood and opened the cramped window.
From the other room of the motel, he could hear Shayva’s opiate-laden voice as she tried to make out the awful carnage taking place on the streets. “Yeah, baby, we can go, let me just take a quick look.” She had always had a morbid curiosity that most junkies could have cared less about. “Oh Nev, you gotta see this, look what they’re doing to that girl, or what’s left of her. It’s like when…” The loud crash of the boards covering the window splintering into pieces as Shayva tried to balance herself against them yanked Nevik out of his stupor. Light from the outside world filled the room, as the realization of what she’d done enveloped her, causing her to freeze, her body framed within the destroyed window. The rovers stopped what they were doing, covered in blood and fluid. The lifeless corpse of the girl twitched on the street as the gang’s cooks partitioned the body into fillets.
Without thinking, Nevik swooped into the bedroom, grabbing his wife by the arm. “Now, Shay, now. We have to go.”
The crashing of the boards attracted the attention of a rover relegated to the outskirts of the carnivorous huddle, who, upon registering the presence of two more fresh cuts, howled in anticipation of the meal to come. The piercing sound of the famished man’s voice caused Nevik and Shayva to freeze, like deer in the headlights. The rest of the pack stopped ravaging the mangled corpses in response to the omega’s screech, all eyes locking on the pair of God’s special creatures.
As if waking from a dream, Nevik’s dulled senses seemed to come back to life, directing him to smash the small window in the dirty bathroom. “We have to get the fuck out of here.” Using a blood-stained towel left on the floor by previous occupants wrapped around his arm, Nevik broke through the weak glass, the cold air of the forgotten world blowing onto his face.
Shayva still stood motionless, watching as the rovers raced towards the motel room, scrambling and fighting with one another over first dibs. “Nevik…I didn’t mean to yell…” Her voice was hushed and full of terror, but her body would not allow her to move, leaving her as a statue to be ripped apart by the approaching band of misfit degenerates.
Nevik climbed through the shattered window to the waiting speederbike outside. After quickly securing his pack in the cargo store, he reached into the bathroom to pull his wife through. “Give me your hand, Shay.” Using his other hand, he switched on the ignition of the bike, revving the throttle.
As Shayva was half-way out of the window, the voice of the first rover boomed through the motel. Standing alone in the motel room, the rover smiled, running his finger down the long blade of his knife. “Mmmm…junkie meat…my favorite.”
The thought of losing his wife and only friend to the sodomites that had infected most of the world forced Nevik to act without thinking, pulling Shay through the window, cutting her hip on a shard of broken glass as he did so.
Sensing the spilt blood, the leader shouted, “where do you think you’re going!” then stormed through the room towards the couple, loosing a horrifying howl.
Nevik laid his wife on the speeder, retrieving a Glock 22 .40 caliber handgun from under the steering column in the same motion. Without hesitation, he turned and fired, connecting with the left eye of the rover, who had made it as far as the window. The filthy man’s body crumpled to the floor of the dirty bathroom, all life removed from his being. A pool of blood formed around the man’s head as other rovers rushed into the bathroom, still fighting after their fleeting prize. None took notice of their deceased leader, nor did Nevik as he raced away from the motel on the speederbike, his bleeding wife clinging to the meager contours of his heroin-chic physique.
“Nev, I’m really bleeding…I’m losing my high…gonna be sick…” Shayva’s weak voice slowly floated from the back of the speederbike to the front as she fought to stay conscious.
“I know, Shay, I know. We’ll be there soon, just hang on.” The excitement at the motel had caused Nevik to act more rigorously than he would have chosen to, and the propopinol fix he had taken hours earlier, though intended to last for 24-hours, had dissipated for the moment. Anger welled up inside him as he thought of his wife using the last of her stash without cause. “Gluttonous whore” he thought to himself. As the rage built within him, Nevik realized that dwelling on the current shortage of medicine only worsened his symptoms. It was no secret he would have done the same thing had he not already been well. He focused what little will-power he had on the abandoned street before him. Snow flashed past as he and Shayva rode into the early morning light.
The Sacred Heart retirement center had clearly been among the first facilities to become over run during the first days following the Last War. Crashed vehicles and broken bodies littered the parking area; hardly a single window of the towering building had been left unbroken as the chaos of society crashing had burned through the hospital.
Nevik pulled the speeder into the front of the building, killing the vehicle’s engine as the silence of the massive crime scene enveloped he and his wife. “Can you walk, baby? We have to get inside…we’re way too exposed out here.”
Shayva nodded her headed as she hobbled off the speederbike. “I’m good, Nev. Let’s just find something before it’s too late.”
Nevik helped steady his wife, leaning her against the wall of the foyer hospital’s lobby before quickly returning to the vehicle. Opening the cargo store on the rear of the bike, he surveyed his arsenal: less than 50 rounds of ammunition for the handgun, a ginzu kitchen knife, and a wrench. Fortunately, the ginzu was sharp – Nevik had stolen it from a door-to-door salesman just days before the leaders of man had simultaneously blasted each other with every weapon at their collective disposal – all agents chemical, biological, and nuclear. Considering the close-quarters nature of the hospital, he opted for the knife, sheathing it in the fine leather case the salesman had been so proud of, fastening it to his hip.
When he returned, Nevik found his wife slumped against the wall of the lobby. She had not lost consciousness; the drugs had kept her mind sedate enough not to panic, her addiction had kept her from passing out, though it wouldn’t be long before body took over mind. Seeing his wife was content for the moment, he proceeded to inspect the blinding white lobby of the hospital. The distinct sensation of sanitation exuded from the walls was unlike any Nevik had felt sense adolescence. Like a street-dog wearily in search of his next shelter, he crept pass furniture unused for months, before skulking to the front of the room without detecting any signs of life, then reaching through the clear-plastic partition of the receptionist’s booth to press the button concealed below the desk, opening the electronically locked door leading to the rest of the hospital. In his twenty-sixth year, he had been an addictizen for the majority of his adult life, surviving off government-sponsored addiction-sustenance programs to maintain wellness. He had broken into hospitals like these several times in the years leading up to the Last War.
“Here we go, doll – just like that.” Nevik smiled as he held the door open for his wife.
Shayva lifted herself against the lobby wall, then limped towards the belly of the hospital. “You still got it, lover.” A small trickle of blood followed her.
“First things, first – we gotta get you stitched up; you’re losing too much blood.”
“Fuck my blood, Nevik, I’m losing my dose; I’m getting sick. Now help me find the shit.” Shayva leaned against her husband, straining to keep her balance.
“Lemme just stop the bleeding…I can’t lose you Shay.” Nevik struggled to keep her afoot as Shayva’s body began to shut down.
“You’re gonna lose shit” were the last words Nevik could decipher as his wife’s body went limp, slipping into unconsciousness. He placed his head against her neck, feeling the shallow beat of her pulse against his cheek – she was not dead.
“Wait here, baby. I’m gonna fix you up.” Nevik sat Shayva down against the wall as the lobby door shut behind them, locking the outside world out. Before venturing into the depths of the hospital, he momentarily admired his wife’s beauty. Though she had been an addictizen for as long as he had known her, Shayva had retained much of the beauty Nevik had lost in his youth. Like his, her brown hair had become frizzled and strained from being exposed to the elements on a regular basis, though it held a certain sheen that one could not buy even at the most affluent salons of the pre-war era. Looking up and down her famished frame, Nevik took note of the fine curves of his wife’s body. The blood oozing from her hip reminded him of the task at hand, and he disappeared amid the flickering lights of the hospital’s maze of corridors.
Shayva’s eyelids fluttered in the synthetic neon light dripping from the ceiling, covering the whole of the examination room. She tried to sit up, but found herself restrained, bound to a gurney in the center of the white room. As her eyes focused, the room resolved, and she became aware of the operating tray positioned next to her. Bloody instruments were strewn across it, while wadded up pieces of soiled gauze littered the floor.
“Don’t worry, love, the worst of it’s over.” The professionally calm voice was unfamiliar to Shayva, as was the face of the man it belonged to. The spectacles and refined speech patterns of the man implied he had been a physician of some kind. “You lost a lot of blood; that cut was deep. I had to act quickly…I did what I had to.”
Looking down, Shayva noticed the pristine bandaging job that had been performed on her hip. She tried to touch the freshly cleaned wound, but the restraints prevented her from doing do. The sweat forming all over her body from not medicating could not be ignored. All she could think of was getting fixed, and this man was preventing that. Shayva fought to muster what little strength she still possessed, forcing her voice to take on an authoritative tone of its’ own. “What is this? Why am I tied up? Where’s Nevik…who the hell are you?” The list of questions betrayed her will, revealing her fear for the entire world to witness.
“My name is Dr. Watts Anaheim; I cleaned and sutured your wound before dressing it; I used to work here. You’ve been restrained for your own good, child. Your kind is known for picking at wounds, and any infection would surely spell the end for you.” The doctor’s voice remained calm, smooth, though it took on an unsettling quality Shayva had not initially recognized. “I just want to keep you here under my supervision before discharging and sending you home.”
“Look, doc, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention or not, but the world’s gone to shit – there’s no home to go home to anymore…for any of us.” Shayva continued to wrestle with the restraints as she spoke. “Now undo these fucking things and release me. Where the hell is Nevik? He better not have left me here with your spooky ass.”
Dr. Anaheim placed his hand on Shayva’s arm as it fought to free itself. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, love. See, I am aware that the world has been cleansed, and it is up to me and those like me to rebuild it,” he squeezed her small arms, “as we see fit.”
“You sick motherfucker…let her go.” Nevik’s weakened voice came from behind the gurney, followed by a blood-splattered cough.
“Ahhhh…I see Romeo has come back to us.” Dr. Anaheim released Shayva, then pulled Nevik into the center of the room where his wife could see him. “He’s right here, love. Right as rain.” The doctor tossed Nevik’s body to the floor. “He’s no good to me dead or permanently injured, nor are you. The rovers will pay top-trade for unspoiled meat,” Dr. Anaheim kicked Nevik in the gut, “and you, lovely girl, you will help me to bring a family into this world.”
“Nev, do something.” Shayva’s voice was filled with tears as the sick doctor’s end-game became apparent. Nevik did not respond to his wife’s pleas.
“Do something? What…With this?” The doctor brandished the ginzu in Shayva’s face. “The only thing he’s going to do is watch as we herald the new generation.” He slid the blade between the buttons of Shayva’s dirty shirt, slicing it in half, exposing her breasts. “Mmmmm…just as I hoped – you’ve never given birth, have you, child?” The doctor rubbed her would-be womb as he spoke, slipping his other hand into her loose-fitting pants, letting his fingers explore every crevice of her body.
Shayva thrashed on the gurney, but to no avail. She squeezed her eyes tightly together, frantically trying to come up with some way out, but she could not think; the withdrawals from not having medicated in over a day blocked her thought patterns. “Stop, stop, stop…I can’t do this, not like this; I’m sick, I need my medicine.” Even in the face of terrible rape, all she could think about was getting high.
“Your medicine? You junkies and your justifications – you’re an addict, sweet child, nothing more, nothing less.” Anaheim continued to fondle Shayva’s body, drooling on her neck as spoke.
“Yes, you’re right, and I can’t perform while I’m sick. You should know that; you’re a doctor.”
The rationale behind her logic was undeniable, and the sick doctor paused in his indiscretions. “You know what? You’re right. Lucky for you, I have what you need right here, and there’s not a lot going around.” He removed a bottle from his lab coat containing a handful of pills, shaking them in his victim’s face as he smiled calmly. “80mg oxycontin – this stuff was like gold even before the wars; I used to make a pretty penny supplementing my income by selling the shit to your kind. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d bet you’d fuck me for a single hit if I was offering; no force necessary.” Watts Anaheim stared at Shayva, content in the knowledge that his reasoning was as sound as hers.
Shayva’s eyes moved from the sick, twisted smile of the doctor to the pill bottle, and she instantly knew she’d do whatever it took to get it from him. “So fix me up and let’s do this. I was getting tired of him anyway.” She let her eyes indicate her husband as she watched Anaheim prepare a solution of water and oxycodone, preparing the entire pill for injection. “Looks like you’re better suited to take care of me than he ever was.” Her eyes briefly moved from the syringe to her husband who lay crumpled on the floor, motionless. The groans emanating from Nevik served as an eerie soundtrack to the narcotic administration taking place around him.
The first rush of the opiate derivative being sucked up by her brain caused a smile to instinctively flash across Shayva’s face, and the sweat forming all over her body seemed to instantly evaporate. “That’s good…I’m ready.” With every ounce of energy she could command, she lifted her groggy eyelids “First untie me though, I want to enjoy this.”
Dr. Anaheim paused for a moment, considering the pros and cons of releasing his prisoner. Sure that her husband could offer no assistance, and the girl was herself far too inebriated to resist, the doctor decided it could be mutually beneficial to at least release the arm restraints. After all, she was a junkie who weighed 100 pounds, at the most; what damage could she really do. “Very well, child,” he unbuckled the cuffs wrapped around Shayva’s wrists, “use your hands on me, but your legs stay; I don’t want you closing on me.” Dr. Anaheim then lowered the bottom-half of the gurney, positioning himself between Shayva’s legs before commencing his lascivious antics. He licked her body up and down, though warranted no response from his victim.
Shayva lay still, allowing the doctor to feel comfortable as he probed her body with his tongue. She stroked his back and chest with a free hand, letting him relish in the wet warmth of her loins. “Go down” she instructed with a smile, and the sick-doctor obeyed without hesitation. As her most precious gift was befouled, Shayva reminded herself of the many unsavory acts she had committed during her lifetime, all of them done of her own free will. This would be easy, he wouldn’t even reach climax.
As the doctor’s head bobbed up and down between her legs, Shayva’s hand slowly crept towards the operating tray still resting next to the gurney. Carefully, she retrieved the first object she could reach that had the potential to serve as a weapon; a pair of golden forceps with pointed tips. As the sick-doctor lapped at her juices, Shayva raised her arm, ready to bring the weapon down with all the force she had retained in reserve. The movement of her arms caused the doctor to mistakenly assume the girl was lost in the throngs of ecstasy, and he looked up to savor the sight. His eyes met with hers, and the fire burning within Shayva made clear to the doctor her actual intent. As he tried to step away, his pants, loosely hanging off his knees, prevented him from moving. The look of confusion and despair on the sick doctor’s face made her smile, and Shayva brought the golden forceps down, crashing into the doctor’s left eye. Dr. Watts Anaheim’s mouth opened in preparation to release a ghoulish howl, but no sound came out. Rather, the doctor fumbled onto his back, pants around his knees, golden forceps sticking out of his left eye. Blood began pooling around his head as it rushed out of his ocular cavity onto the floor. The bottle of pills, which the doctor had kept clamped inside his hand, rolled across the examination room, stopping as it met the body of Nevik Rush.
Shayva unfastened the leg restraints binding her to the gurney, and quickly collected the medicine. After taking stock of the remaining pills – 6 80mg tabs – she looked at her husband writhing on the floor; dried blood outlined his matted hairline, though he had not lost consciousness – he was too sick. “Come on Nevik, wake up…we have to leave, rovers are on their way.” Her voice pleaded as she feebly tried to lift him onto the gurney. As she got him to his feet, the sensation of blood rushing from his head down to the rest of his body caused nausea to set in, and Nevik vomited. “Jesus, man, come on.” Shayva had always hated all bodily fluids and discharges, save for her own, which she found she could tolerate with some degree of compassion.
“Too…sick…can’t walk…” Nevik collapsed on the gurney as soon as his body felt it underneath him. Without thinking, Shayva grabbed the operation tray, tossing the remaining instruments onto the floor. She then retrieved one of the pills from the bottle, licking the thin coating off before hastily crushing it up on the shiny metallic tray and holding it to her lover’s face.
“Here, breathe, deeply.” Nevik’s bloody face inhaled deeply as Shayva held the tray, the crushed white powder flying up his nose with every short snort. Remnants that did not make it into his nasal cavity mixed with the drying blood, forming a chalky paste around Nevik’s mouth and nose.
Having ingested the majority of the pill nasally, Nevik allowed his head to rest on the gurney. Though not nearly as fast-acting as intravenous or even intramuscular administration, the crushed pill did not require too much time to work, and within minutes life returned to his eyes. “What happened here?” Surveying the carnage of the examination room, it became clear to him that some terrible act of abuse had recently occurred there.
“This rapist-fuck got what he should’ve got a long time ago.” Shayva rifled through the doctor’s pockets as she spoke, producing a nearly full pack of cigarettes from his right breast pocket. “Score.” Shayva removed a cigarette from the pack, placing it between her puckered lips before realizing her lighter was in the pocket of the pants she had been stripped of moments earlier. “He was gonna trade us to the rovers” locating the lighter, she lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply “…they’re coming here now…we gotta move.”
Nevik tried to stand on his shaky legs, the combination of the heavy narcotic stupor and the beating he had previously taken causing him to almost collapse before being steadied by Shayva. As he held onto his wife for balance, he noticed she was not wearing a top, and that her torso was covered with shallow claw marks. “What the hell, Shay?”
“I told you: this fuck was molesting me for sick kicks, using the medicine as leverage.” She held the bottle in her lover’s face as proof, then shoved the lit cigarette in between his lips. “If we don’t hurry, our fate will be the same as if this prick had finished the job.”
Nevik smoked the cigarette, and upon feeling his senses return to order, removed the sick doctor’s lab coat from the corpse. “Here, put this on; it isn’t much, but it’ll keep you warm while we find a new place to lay low.” He then collected his ginzu as well as a surgical saw which he handed to his wife. “It’s too bad we can’t scour this place for more meds – guaranteed they’re here.” Nevik looked around the room that had almost meant the end of both he and his wife, realizing the dope his wife had procured from the sick doctor would be enough to at least get them to another safe location. “Alright, let’s go.”
Nevik and Shayva slowly made their way out of the besmirched examination room, back towards the lobby of the hospital.
Nevik and Shayva approached the main entrance to the building, the light from the outside world contrasting vividly with the artificial light of the hospital lobby. The speeder waited where they had left it, and the couple hurried to beat the pack of rovers that would undoubtedly be descending on them at any moment. As he crossed the threshold of the hospital, unseen hands hurled Nevik to the cold ground of the hospital’s foyer. Shayva screamed and lashed at the unknown assailant’s arm with the surgical saw, but was caught mid-swing by another hand. The face of a woman appeared from behind a pillar, and for an instant, Shayva thought she recognized civility, a trait long-lost in the world after the Last War. The thought was cut short by the woman’s other hand smashing into Shayva’s jaw, causing her to collapse into seemingly eternal darkness.
“You motherfuckers – get your god damned hands off her!” Nevik climbed to his feet and tried to attack the woman, but was caught in the gut by the fist of the other person – a man wearing a baklava. Falling to his knees, he thought he heard a voice say something about “helping addictizens”, then was forced to join his wife in unconsciousness as the woman brought the blunt end of the surgical saw down against his temple.
When he awoke, Shayva was already there. Though his body reflexively thrashed in an attempt to relieve himself from whatever shackles this newest group of degenerates had used to bind them, there were no restraints.
“They didn’t chain us” Shayva stood before a window, looking out to the open land surrounding her new domicile. “I don’t even think they want to hurt us…they think they’re helping us.”
Nevik sat up and look around the room; it was clean, but not clinical in nature. Surveying the bland decorating scheme, the generic furniture, he concluded they were in a motel somewhere. “It’s another motel? At least we’ll have running water. Hook up a pill, I need to fix.” The sharp pain in his gut tinged, the throbbing in his head became impossible to ignore as he stood up from the bed. His head had been bandaged and his body cleaned. Looking at his wife, it was obvious she too had been thoroughly cleaned, both of them dressed in white linens. “They washed us already, while I was out?”
Shayva kept her back turned as she spoke to her husband, “While we were both out. They took it, Nev, all of it. God knows what else they took when they were ‘cleaning’ us.”
“What do you mean, ‘they took it’? Took what?” Nevik hoped that by feigning ignorance he would somehow alter the reality of the situation.
“You know what the fuck I mean…the meds, Nev, they took our meds.” Shayva had turned from the window to face her husband. Though her physical self – her body, her face, her hair – shined in the morning light from being recently bathed, her eyes, her soul revealed a crushing sense of despair. She looked weaker than she ever had.
“What…” Nevik looked around the clean hotel room, “What do they want from us?” He checked the front door of the room, which would not budge.
“They locked it…from the outside.” Shayva did move as tears streamed down her face.
As if he had not heard her, Nevik pounded on the door of the hotel room. “Hey, someone! Open this fucking door…now!” There was no response. He pushed past his wife and examined the window. They were several stories up; jumping would clearly ruin anyone foolish enough to assume such an undertaking. The pain in his gut returned, causing him to double over before dry-heaving; he would have expunged any food in his stomach, though there was none to release. As he crouched on the floor, Nevik could feel his wife’s spindly fingers running through his hair. “What are we supposed to do? We made it this far, we can’t die now.” He clutched her legs as he sobbed. Shayva continued to stroke his head as she remained like a statue.
“They expect us to recover.” Her voice was soft, but the words held a meaning they both had avoided for the majority of their lives.
Nevik raised his weary head and looked at his wife; he thought to himself how sick she looked. Shayva wiped his eyes as he spoke. “What? You don’t mean…there’s none left….Shay, I don’t want that.”
“It’ll be OK, love, you just need to dose. Then we’ll start talking about what to do next.” As she finished speaking, a slit in the door of the apartment/cell opened, and a tray was inserted, upon which sat a single plastic cup containing no more than a gulp of red liquid.
Immediately he recognized the medicine, and his body instinctively backed away. “I don’t want it…I’ll be worse off…just give me back our shit!” Nevik screamed at the face hidden behind the door.
“It’s for your own good, sir. Please, just take the medicine…then we can get some food into your belly. We don’t want things to get worse for you.” The voice was that of a mature woman; not old, but definitely not his wife’s age.
Shayva gripped his arm as it tensed to smash whatever was closest. “Please, Nev, we have to do it…otherwise we’ll collapse. It’s been too long.”
Nevik knew his wife was right; what choice did he have? He’d been an addictizen most of his life, and it seemed more than plausible that his body would be unable to maintain basic functions if he were to cease medicating overnight. Slowly, with hesitation and dread, he inched towards the door and the medicine. Lifting the dose to his lips, the medicinal-cherry flavor smell wafted through his nasal cavities; the smell had always made him sick. Of course he had enrolled in state-sponsored cessation programs that focused on maintenance therapy many times before, though the effect of the alternative medicines had never quite worked for Nevik. He swallowed the syrupy shot, wondering how long it would it would last this time.
The voice from behind the door chimed-in again once he finished taking his prescription. “Good…see, that wasn’t so bad. Now, just relax, let it take effect and we’ll be back to check on the two of you before long.” The voice directed itself to Shayva, “Ma’am, how are you feeling? Everything alright?”
“Fine…Everything’s fine. Just leave us alone, please.” Shayva’s voice was cold, full of contempt. Nevik understood why: they hadn’t asked for help – it was being forced on them. Before the Last War they had spent their lives fighting a world which insisted on imposing help on those deemed less fortunate. What this world never understood, and what it hadn’t learned since the Last War, was that Nevik and Shayva, and everyone like them, had chosen this lifestyle. Who was anybody else to dictate how they should live their lives.
“Very well. Someone will be back to check on you here in a bit. Until then, try not to get overly excited; we would hate to see either of you waste your daily rations. After we’re sure the medicine takes, we’ll bring you to lunch.” The slit in the door slapped close, leaving Nevik and Shayva alone in the room again.
“Who are you people…why did you bring us here?” Nevik’s unanswered questions bounced of the reinforced door back at him. Even as his conscious-self tried to invoke emotions of anger in response to essentially being forcibly drugged, Nevik’s subconscious began to revel in the relief offered by the medication. He turned to his wife, who had curled up on the bed. She looked beautiful, and her sickness seemed to be subsiding. “What now?”
“Now we wait. Come here,” Shayva motioned for her husband to join her in what were probably the most sanitary sleeping arrangements either of them had known in years. “Let’s just be comfortable for now.”
Nevik climbed into the white bed were his wife, dressed in see-through white linens waited for him. He had not been clothed after he had been washed, though this did not bother him. He kissed Shayva long and passionately before they both fell asleep in a mass of naked flesh and clean fabric.
When the large bolt locking the apartment from the outside was finally disengaged, Nevik and Shayva awoke from the first instance of peaceful sleep they had found in months. The powerfully sedating effects of the new medicine had allowed them rest unimpeded by the horrors that had beset the world. The door opened and a woman dressed in scrubs and wearing a lab coat entered, followed by two rather brutish looking males. Though he could not be sure, Nevik guessed the woman to be somewhere in her late forties or early fifties; he immediately assumed hers was the voice they heard earlier, the men he guessed to be not much older than himself. Without asking or eye-contact the woman began checking the vital functions of Shayva, who had groggily sat up in the bed. Nevik did not move, as the menacing gaze of the guards had not left him since entering the room.
“How did you rest? I imagine you both must feel much better by now.” The woman seemed appeased by Shayva’s pulse, breathing, and temperature, and moved on to check Nevik’s heart rate and blood pressure. As she reached for his wrist, Nevik flinched away, fearing a repeat of the previous day’s events. The guards took a step towards the bed, ready to restrain the naked patient. “There, there…no need to be afraid. We are here to help you.” The woman’s voice had the intended effect of calming Nevik, who offered his wrist in compliance. The room sat in silence as the woman read his vital signs. Finally, after making sure all was right with her patients, the woman spoke: “Very good, you both seem to be coming along quite well. You’re very lucky, the two of you; most addictizens eventually succumb to the violent nature of the New World.”
Nevik and Shayva looked at each other in silence; they had run into groups of militarized humanitarian groups before, and never with good outcomes. More often than not these organizations had sought to impose their own value systems on others, projecting internal guilt outwards. “Who are you people…what is this place?” Nevik’s voice was slow but coherent, the effects of the dose doing much to subdue his persona.
As she answered, the doctor began to exit the room, though the guards waited behind to make sure the new patients cooperated with the physician’s orders. “My name is Ruth Sindow, and I help to administer the Program in this place…”
Shayva interrupted the woman, “You’re a doctor, then?”
“No sweet child, I am but a caregiver. I used to be an accountant for a large marketing firm; I was staying at this hotel when the first strikes of the Last War were launched, and I never left…”
Again, Shayva interrupted, “what is it that you do here?”
“We rebuild. Here we have all the amenities of modern society, and we are relatively safe.” Ruth gestured to the window, “Thirty stories between us and the terror below. We only require that members new to the Program contribute their time and energy to maintaining our ration stores.” She smiled at the young couple, eagerly anticipating their response.
“What about the dose? Where does it come from?” Nevik chimed as one of the guards directed him into his own linen outfit. “Phewww…these things are a little drafty” he exclaimed as the chill from outside the room ran through the thin fabric.
“You’ll get used to it once your body normalizes the effects of the dose. As far as where it comes from, well, it is the result of a group effort that we are able to maintain our rations. Fear not, you will see before long. Please, follow me.” Ms. Sindow was standing in the hallway, waiting for the couple to join her. Nevik headed to the door, past his wife who was being dressed by one of the guards, who was clearly enjoying his job too much. Unsure of what to do, Nevik deferred to Ruth with a glance of his eyes. Sensing his discomfort, she commanded the guard, “That’ll do for now, A1B”. The guard stopped pawing at Shayva, who was too high to recognize the indiscretion, steering her into the hallway after her husband and the caregiver. The door to the apartment closed behind them, as Nevik and Shayva were escorted into the dining hall on the fifth floor of the hotel.
The large room, which had probably served as a banquet hall at some point in pre-war history, was well lit and warm. Nevik forgot about the thin nature of his garments as he marveled over the various dishes setup on display throughout the room. Suddenly a hunger he had never known forced its’ way into his consciousness, and for a moment, he thought he might collapse. Shayva experienced a similar sensation, but rather than wait for instructions, upon entering the room blurted out: “Oh my God, I’m so fucking famished!” and proceeded to gorge herself on hotcakes and tinned sausages.
“Go ahead, son, eat-up” Ms. Sindow pointed Nevik towards the nearest plate of food, encouraging him to eat.
After they had piled their plates higher than could be managed, Nevik and Shayva sat with Ms. Sindow at a table. Though the banquet hall was quite large and seemed to have been well maintained, it was vacant. Clearly, however, it had been recently prepared for the arrival of the new guests.
“There’s no one here. What is this place?” Nevik chewed through the words as he negotiated a piece of pork.
“There are many others, Nevik; they’re at work now.” Shayva hardly looked up from her meal as Ruth spoke. “We have a Program in place here; everyone has a part. You two will have your parts to play also.”
“Yeah? Like what?” Shayva’s voice was distant, her conscious self too contented by synthetic bliss and home-cooked food to really care about whatever else was happening around her.
Ruth Sindow watched the two new arrivals ravage their rations with stoic reverence; she knew her guests would not be able to refuse what the Program had to offer. “We are always searching for new sources of medicine for our patients. So, on a rotating basis residents are sent out into the world in search of abandoned hospitals and medical clinics; we’ve amassed quite a reserve over the last few months. More menial items are collected on less-thorough salvage missions. Other residents are assigned other domestic tasks; cleaning, sewing, washing – we have indoor gardens on the twentieth floor that must be maintained.”
“Sounds great.” Shayva continued chewing her food, without looking at either the caretaker or her husband.
“Who decides who does what; is there some kind of elected body for that?” Nevik had not eaten much of his food, as the explanation of this new community had been fairly encompassing.
Ruth laughed at the question, and though her tone was playful, Nevik sensed a level of mockery in it. “Oh my…since when did your kind care about politics? Don’t worry, son, you’ll be cared for; you’ll never be sick again. Now, eat up, you’ll have your work cut out for you tomorrow. Today you’ll meet the Administrator.”
The Administrator’s quarters were on the top floor of the hotel, the long ride from the fifth floor to the penthouse suite made less tedious by the amazing view of the cityscape through the elevator’s glass windows. Noticing the new arrival’s astonishment, Ms. Sindow remarked, “hard to imagine all that’s left down there is terror and heartache…and your medicine.” Neither of them turned to answer her.
“It looks so peaceful from up here.” Shayva’s face was plastered against the cold glass of the elevator, fog condensing around her nose and mouth.
The elevator stopped, chiming as it reached its’ destination. The door opened revealing the Administrator’s penthouse. The opulence and sheer extravagance of the room was unlike anything Nevik or Shayva had experienced since the Last War and the decimation of society. Beautiful paintings and sculptures decorated the room, while fine rugs and leather couches begged to be relished.
“Please, my guests, do come in.” A fine-looking man of Persian decent dressed in a fine suit beckoned for them to enter, as Ms. Sindow gently prodded them out of the elevator. “I am the Administrator, and I welcome you to our community. Please, sit.” The man gestured to a pair of sitting chairs before a set of guards dressed in medical scrubs emerged, taking both Nevik and Shayva by the shoulder, encouraging them to sit. Nevik instinctively flinched, but the guard was able to force him into the seat before he could escape. “Please, my friend, do not be alarmed. We have scanned you both for known diseases and you’re healthy, which I must say, is quite amazing. Even the war withstanding, as addictizens, it a miracle neither of you contracted the illness during your lifetimes.” Nevik looked at his wife, who was playing close attention to the Administrator’s words, like a new recruit at a weekend evangelical retreat. Shayva did not notice her husband’s concerned eyes. “You are both mentally stable,” the Administrator continued, “at least as far as addictizens can be considered stable, and so are eligible to remain here, with us; safe from the terrors of the world.”
Ruth Sindow chimed in, “You both should feel very fortunate that the Administrator found you when he did. I doubt either of you would have survived much longer out there. The Program will offer you the salvation you hearts so desire.”
“Ms. Sindow is right: the Program is the answer to the question of each of our lives. We will give your purpose; everything you do will be to ensure the next dose. It’s everything any addictizen ever wanted.” The Administrator delivered his speech like a salesman with a client on the hook.
Nevik interrupted, “I don’t understand; what is all this for?”
As the words left his mouth, the guard nearest him struck him in the jaw; not too hard, but hard enough to silence him. Shayva did not move her eyes, keeping them trained on the Administrator’s fine suit. Nevik turned to the guard, glaring at him with a suppressed rage he had not felt in years. The guard smiled down at the feeble addict.
“You mustn’t speak during the Administrator’s messages, Nevik; you must listen.” Ms. Sindow’s voice sounded concerned, but only as that of a paid caretaker worrying over her meal-ticket.”
“It’s OK, A2C, he didn’t know; but he does now, right friend?” The Administrator chuckled a generic laugh as he patted Nevik on the arm. “Now, on to your first assignments: Nevik, you are able-bodied and I think it’s safe to say you have a fighting spirit. There is a farm not far from here where a veterinarian used to live and work; tomorrow you will accompany a salvage team to the property and see what you can find. It’s not far and should be relatively safe; a good first mission for any newcomer.” The Administrator then let his eyes fall on Shayva, who he looked up and down in an instant before continuing. “Shayva, you are not a fighter and so will be assigned domestic chores here under Ms. Sindow. Now: off you go. I suggest you both get some rest before tomorrow.”
Before either of them could protest, agree, or even respond, Shayva and Nevik were being ushered out of the Administrator’s penthouse by Ms. Sindow back into the elevator. After descending the many floors back to their own accommodations, they were each distributed an evening dose by the caretaker, and locked in their room. Nevik watched as his wife droopily climbed onto the soft bed that had been remade in their absence.
“You think it’s good?” Nevik no longer felt the pain of abstention; the second dose had begun working in conjunction with the first and his mind was becoming lost in the opiate haze of the Program.
“Of course it’s good, Nev – no more wondering; it’s what we’ve been looking for our entire lives.” Shayva had long since lost herself in the bliss of the Program, and had curled up on the bed, pleasure swelling through her body. “Come lay with me before I crash; we’ll be working separate chores tomorrow.”
Nevik let his reservations about the Program dissipate as he spooned his wife on the clean bed covered in soft linens. Their stoned hands explored every inch of the other’s body as they spent the night wrestling in the throes of ecstasy.
The banging on the door snapped Nevik out the deep slumber that had followed the previous evening’s sexual exploits, and he turned to his wife who had not been fazed by the racket.
“Shayva, someone’s at the door.” For a moment, Nevik forgot about the Program and where he was, worried a pack of rovers had found them and was readying sharp knives to peel the flesh off their bodies.
The slot in the door parted, and an orderly’s voice shouted into the room. “Open up! I’ve got your morning dose, but not until your dressed and ready to work.” The voice seemed to project towards the floor, “Your work clothes are there; get ‘em on and then you can dose.”
Nevik could feel the first dose losing its’ potency, and a cramp in his stomach had started to churn itself around his guts. “My stomach hurts, I don’t think I can work today.” He nudged his sleeping wife. “Shay, they want us to get up and work; they say we can’t dose until we’re dressed and ready to go.”
“That pain will go away once you dose, and in a few days, once the medicine has built itself up in your system, it’ll go away entirely. Now let’s go, we got work to do.”
Shayva leapt out of bed and began dressing herself in the hotel maid’s uniform that had obviously been left for her. “Come on, Nev, get dressed. It’ll be fine. No more worries, remember?” She was pulling the bland dress over her naked body, ignoring the anonymous eyes watching her through the door slot. She then began tying the laces of the white shoes that had been set next to the work boots that were clearly left for her husband.
“A little privacy, please.”He clamored across the bed and began pulling on the coveralls that had been left for him.
“Sorry, sir, it’s our job to make sure you both comply before receiving your dose.” The orderly’s voice was snide.
“Whatever; I’m ready, can I please dose now?” Shayva stood in front of the door, anxiously awaiting her medication.
“Not until you’re both ready.”
Nevik finished lacing up and tying the boots, then stood next to his wife. “OK, how about now…good enough?” The bottom half of the slot flipped open and two plastic bottles filled with red liquid were produced.
“By order of the Administrator we’ve upped both of your doses by ten milligrams, and will continue to do so until you’ve both leveled out.” The door opened to the tune of the anonymous voice, revealing another large guard dressed in medical scrubs. The orderly looked Shayva up and down, who again did not seem to notice, then sneered at Nevik. “This way, you two.”
Nevik and Shayva followed the large man into the elevator, which began to descend. At the twentieth floor, it stopped, the door opening to a make-shift factory floor, though no one worked the many sewing machines or other appliances scattered throughout the room.
“This is you” the guard pushed Shayva out of the elevator “they’ll be here to instruct you momentarily. Enjoy yourself.” Shayva turned to face her husband, a puzzled look covering her face, but could not question the situation before the elevator door closed. “And now for yours” the guard pressed the button for the ground-level as he spoke.
“What about her…what’ll she do?” Nevik was worried; even though his wife had been dropped off at what was unmistakably a factory, there was no evidence of actual life on the floor.
“Don’t you worry about her; she’s in the hands of the Program now, she’ll be fine.” The guard’s voice was distressing to Nevik.
“Fine how? What kind of work will she do?”
“Whatever kind of work assigned to her for today.” The orderly turned to look Nevik in the eye. “If I were you, I’d be more concerned about my own duties than those of some other resident.”
“Some other resident? That’s my wife, man.”
“That was your wife, and you were her husband. Now you’re both enrolled in the Program, and there are no wives or husbands in the Program; only members.” The guard no longer looked at Nevik, but smiled and looked straight ahead.
“What the hell are you talking about? Of course she’s my wife – you can’t just make her forget me.” The doors of the elevator opened to the street as he finished speaking, where two men dressed in work coveralls similar to Nevik’s waited. The guard pushed him out of the elevator into the company of the two men. “It didn’t look to me like anybody made anyone do anything.” The elevator doors closed, leaving him alone with the strange men.
“Hey, I’m Ted, and this is Ed.” The taller of the two men spoke, gesturing to his companion. “We used to be addictizens, too, like you. But the Program saved us.”
“Yeah, saved us…the Program.” The smaller man, Ed, was childish in his speech patterns, and clearly looked to the other man for leadership.
“Great, I’m Nevik. What are we doing here, and what about Shayva?”
“Scavenging…heh-heh…securing goods…heh-heh…maybe find some dope…heh-heh” Ed half spoke to himself as words fought through grunts to form sentences.
“She your wife? I wouldn’t worry ‘bout her…she’ll be just fine.” Ted turned and straddled what had been Nevik’s speederbike.
“That’s mine…how did that get here?”
“It’s the Programs now; no members are allowed personal property – everything for everyone. We’re all in this together.” Ted recited the idioms of the Program as he engaged the engine. “We’re going a couple miles outta town to collect supplies; some old abandoned farmhouse.” Ed joined his companion on the vehicle as it grumbled in anticipation of travel. “Get on, it’s not far – we can all fit.”
Nevik straddled the rear of the bike and had hardly secured himself before Ted gunned the throttle, rocketing them off into the early morning air. The ride to the farmhouse was not far, and before long the speederbike, weighed down by its’ three passengers pulled up to the large wrought-iron gate enclosing the property. The thick lock securing the entryway was still clasped.
“Looks like someone’s still in there.” Nevik remarked as dismounted the vehicle to examine the gate.
“No problem, we got these.” Ted removed a large-caliber handgun from his waste and fired at the lock, causing it to crumble to the ground. The gate creaked as it opened. “See…no problem. Now get back on and let’s get this done.”
“Yeah…let’s get it done.” Ed remained on the speeder as Ted remounted; Nevik remained by the gate.
“Where did that come from?” Nevik asked as Ted holstered the gun.
“Heh-heh…Program initiative 22…heh-heh… all members on salvage missions will be armed.” Ed fumbled the words as he pulled a gun from within his jacket; it was Nevik’s .
“So what…arbitrary redistribution of all property? That’s my weapon.” He reached for the ginzu that was not there. “What do I get…for protection.”
“For now, stay close to us. You’ll get yours once you’ve earned it.” The engine grumbled under Ted’s voice as they waited for the new member. “Now get on, we got work to do.”
“yeah…heh-heh…work to do…” Ed’s voice was unsettling as Nevik joined the two men on the vehicle. As soon as he was on, Ted cranked the throttle, rocketing down the main path.
The farmhouse was quaint; not decadent, but not too country either. The people that had lived here had enjoyed the amenities of modern life before the Last War. The speeder pulled to a halt in front of the house and all three men got off, Ted and Ed with their guns drawn.
“Now you just stay behind us…we’ll make sure everythin’s OK.” Ted crept up the patio stairs to the heavy oak door of the farmhouse.
“Heh-heh…yeah…stay behind us.” Ed followed, as had probably been his custom for most of his life.
Ted tried the heavy brass handle, but it did not turn; it was locked from the inside. Before another thought could pass, Ed smashed the looking-window adjacent to the door. “Fine work, Eddy, fine work.” Ed smiled at his superior’s satisfaction with his work, then reached his arm through the shattered glass and turned the bolt locking the door. “Fine work, indeed.” Ted pushed the door open, which creaked softly as it moved.
The house was in fine order; clearly it had not been ransacked during the first wave of riots. There was a warmth in the house that made it feel as though the previous occupants had never left. The unmistakable smell of cocoa wafted through the foyer into Nevik’s nose: someone was home. “Guys, someone’s here…”
Ted quickly turned and covered Nevik’s mouth. “Quiet! You want to give us away?” Ed brandished his weapon as the other man spoke. Nevik shook his head, indicated that he did not want to give away their position to anyone left in the house. “Good, now keep quiet.” Ted removed his hand and continued to silently lurk through the house.
As the three men reached the kitchen, a teenage girl darted out from behind the counter-top stove where water was boiling for cocoa. Ted quickly grabbed the girl as she screamed for his parents.
“Y’all get down here now, ya hear? We got your girl and you don’t want us to have to do nothing bad to her because of you, so come out…now!” Ted held the girl, who could not have been more than 17, close to his body with barrel of his gun pressed against her temple. Ed eyeballed the girl with filthy intent.
The creaking of the oak steps leading to the second floor of the house could be heard as the rest of the family cautiously came down to the kitchen. An older man, perhaps in his fifties walked in front of another man, no more than thirty years of age. They entered the kitchen, the sight of their young family member being held in dire straits instantly driving the older man to tears.
“Take what you want…we have guns…we have medicine…we have food…please don’t hurt the girl, she’s just a child.” The older man locked eyes with his daughter, “Don’t worry, Shelly, it’ll be fine. We’re gonna give the nice men what they want and then they’ll be on their ways,” his eyes moved back to Ted’s, who continued pointing the gun at the girl, “right?”
“Oh don’t you worry, old-timer, we’ll take what we came for, but first, who else is here?”
“No one, just me and the children.”
“Where’s your wife? I know you didn’t make these beautiful kids by yourself” Ted sneered as he spoke, pressing the barrel harder against the girl’s head, causing her to shriek.
“No, no, no…don’t hurt her. There’s nobody else – wife died during the chemical campaign – it’s just me and my kids, so please, take what you want and go.”
Ted looked at Ed who stopped eye-fucking the girl long enough to give his associate a look of disgusting intent. Without hesitation, Ted pointed his gun at the old man and fired, connecting directly with the center of his forehead. The old man collapsed into a clump of lifeless matter, blood spilling out around him. The boy drew a small caliber pistol from behind his back and fired one shot, hitting Ed in the leg before Ted fired a second, then a third shot into his chest. The boy staggered back a few steps before collapsing next to his father, their blood mixing into one giant pool.
“Awww….my fucking leg….that son bitch got me!” Ed howled as he clutched his leg; Nevik’s glock lay on the ground where it had been dropped during the commotion.
Ted spun the girl and lashed her in the face with the butt of his gun. “God damn it woman! You didn’t think to tell us they were armed?” He butted her again, causing blood to flow from her cheek. “Now you have to pay for it!” He turned the girl around, bending her over the kitchen table. “Get over here, Ed, take your payment.”
Ed hobbled to the table, removing his coveralls as he limped. “Yeah…payment….damn thing hurts..heh-heh…” The two men ripped the girls pants off as she screamed, revealing a supple, white ass, now covered only by a thin cotton fabric.
“She’s all yours…” Ted stepped back as Ed straddled the girl from behind and began doing his worst. The blood from his gunshot wound spilled onto the girl’s legs so that eventually it was impossible to distinguish hers from his. Every time she cried out, the dirty man slammed her head against the kitchen table. “Come on, newbie, let’s give them some alone time.” Ted headed out of the kitchen.
“What the fuck? We can’t do this…this is totally fucked! I’m no rapist!” Nevik went to pull Ed off the unconscious girl, but was stopped by the sensation of Ted’s gun against the back of his head.
“I say what we can and can’t do…and I say Ed can have his way with that girl, then I can, and then, if you want, so can you. For now, though, we collect supplies…get it?” Ted pressed the gun harder to emphasize his point.
“Yes, I get it.” Ted lowered the gun, and Nevik’s eyes locked on the glock still lying on the floor of the kitchen. Without thinking, he turned to Ted, “I get that you two are a couple of sick fucks!” The insult had the desired effect, and Ted smashed Nevik in the head with the gun, causing him to fall to the floor. As he feigned extreme pain from his attacker’s blow, Nevik conspicuously secured the weapon.
“You got anything else to say, pretty boy? If the Administrator didn’t want you back in one piece, I’d finish you right now. Fuck it anyhow…stand up! You’ve met and exceeded your life’s usefulness.” Nevik could sense the gun being pointed at him as the smaller man continued to unabashedly rape the young girl. In a single, fluid motion, he stood, keeping his back turned to the larger man. “That’s a good boy; now let’s go get whatever salvageable items we can find before Eddy finishes up…I don’t want her to get cold while she waits for round two.” Ted turned his back on Nevik as only a junkie preoccupied with finding more junk would. Nevik raised the weapon and squeezed the trigger, firing into the back of Ed’s head, who collapsed, falling off the lifeless girl who did not move. Ted spun back around, butting him in the back of the head. Nevik fell to the ground, as Ted began kicking him. “You motherfucker! That’s Ed! You killed Ed! What’d you think you could save her?” Ted walked over to the ravaged girl, grabbing her by the hair and lifting her head from the table. “This one’s dead as dead, especially since that bullet of yours went straight through ol’ Ed and into her.” Ted brought the heel of his boot down against Nevik’s face, “Are you happy now? You didn’t save shit.” He kicked Nevik again, sending the lingering consciousness into the void of the subconscious.
When he came to, Nevik was in a dark room. The concrete floor was cold against the thin linens he was again dressed in. “Hello!?” He clawed through the blackness of the room until he found the door, which was locked from the outside. “Hello! Someone let me out of here!” He banged on the door, but to no response. The sweat was building on his back and his brow, it had been at least a day since his last dose; the bandages wrapped around his head having already fused with the blood which oozed from his wounds. A slot in the door opened, allowing light to penetrate the tiny room.
“You’re in a holding cell; the Administrator wants to speak with you now you’re awake.”
“I need my dose…I’m sick, I can feel it…I’m dying” Nevik pleaded with the voice on the other side of the door.
“You’re being punished by abstention; it is for the Administrator to decide when you can again receive your medical rations.” The slit in the door closed, returning the cell to darkness. Then, a lock was unlatched from the outside, and the cell door opened – the outside light revealed the cell to actually be a supply closet. The guard grabbed Nevik by the arm and pulled him out, then dragged him to the elevator and up to the Administrator’s penthouse.
As he entered the lavish room, he saw Ted sitting in a chair across from a sofa where the Administrator sat.
“Ahhh, Nevik, please come in.” The Administrator’s voice was pleasant and inviting as the guard shoved Nevik into a chair next to Ted. “I apologize for the rough treatment, but we have important rules here that must be followed…for the good of our community.” The Administrator looked to both Ted and Nevik, “now, why don’t you each tell me what happened; Nevik, you first.”
The guard standing behind him nudged Nevik in the arm, which due to withdrawals, was incredibly painful. “I was sent on the salvage mission, as you assigned. We were at a house that hadn’t been ruined by the Last War; this family was surviving, and this sick fuck and his friend destroyed it!”
“How do you mean ‘destroyed it’, Nevik?”
“He shot the men dead, and his sick buddy raped the girl to death…”
Ted interrupted, “Don’t listen to this addictizen; he’s still a junkie. Hasn’t been on the Program long enough to be taken at his word…” The crushing blow delivered by the guard standing behind them silenced Ted.
“Ted, you’ll have your chance. Please do not interrupt again.” Ted silently nodded his head in response to the Administrator’s order. “Now, Nevik, please continue.”
“It was instinct; even in my darkest days as an addictizen I never perpetrated such heinous acts…on anyone, ever. So, I shot him…I shot Ed, in the head…but it was too late, she was already gone.”
The Administrator subtly licked his lips, adjusting his glasses as he spoke, “Yes, go on, then what?”
“That’s it, Ted beat the lights out of me, and I woke up here. I don’t even know what we were doing there! Those people were fine; they didn’t need us to interfere – now look what’s happened to them!” Nevik felt tears welling up in his eyes, though he was not sure if it was from the recital of the awful events that had taken place at the farmhouse, or from simply not having dosed in a day or so. “What about my meds…when can I dose?”
“Soon, my son, very soon. First, let’s hear Ted’s version of the story.” The Administrator’s eyes turned to the scraggly man, who was also obviously undergoing abstention therapy.
“Well…that’s about it…like he said. Please, sir, I need my dose…it’s been too long. It feels like I have bugs crawling through every pore of my body…” Ted’s voice was shaky; it was evident he had not dealt with withdrawal symptoms for some time.
This realization made Nevik happy, and he smiled to himself, though the Administrator caught the instantaneous smile, which he returned. “Well, gentlemen, since you both agree on the events which took place at the farm, it is my judgement that although Mr. Nevik did knowingly take the life of another Program member, he did so in an effort to protect an innocent. However you, Mr. Ted, acted only out of self-gratification, as did Mr. Ed, without any regard for the better good of the community. Therefore, like Mr. Ed, you cannot be trusted.” The guard slipped a plastic bag around Ted’s head, pulling a cord to tighten the bag around the man’s neck, cutting off the flow of oxygen. Ted flailed in a futile attempt to thwart his own suffocation, until the guard brought a club down, smashing into Ted’s face, rendering him unconscious. The guard continued to smash the suffocating man until his body no longer twitched, and the bag was nearly full of blood.
“You see, Nevik, we must all live righteously if this community is to survive.” The Administrator stood and walked to the bar in the corner of the penthouse. Opening a cabinet concealed by a mirror, he retrieved a skin-popper Nevik recognized as a propopinol injector; there were countless more hidden within the cabinet. The Administrator closed the cabinet and walked to Nevik, whose eyes remained fixated on the popper. “We can’t just go around raping and pillaging,” the familiar popping sound made by the injector breaking his skin sent the first rush of relief through Nevik’s body, “we have specific guidelines for all these things. We have reproduction programs as well as rules of appropriation.” The Administrator gestured towards the dead man being dragged out of the suite, “Ted knew those rules, and he broke them, and he paid the price. You had not been made aware of these rules, so you were punished with a mere day’s worth of abstention. You will have another chance,” the warmth of the propopinol surging through his veins made Nevik smile, “but only one.” The Administrator grabbed him by the face, as one would a child. “If you disrupt the peace of the Program just once more, you will be terminated.” The Administrator released Nevik’s face, turning away from him as if to attend to some other, more pressing business.
“And Shayva…what about my wife?” Nevik remained seated, though his eyes burned with rage.
“Your wife? Surely you’ve learned that members of the Program possess nothing, especially not other people. Sister Shayva is fine; she’s waiting in your room, though she hasn’t seemed too concerned by your delayed return. That’s one’s turning out to be a model Member; you could learn something from her.” Nevik sat with his mouth wide open as he was pulled from the comfortable chair in the beautiful penthouse, into the elevator and back down to his room in the grand hotel.
When he returned to his room, Nevik found his wife resting on the bed, which had once again been made perfectly. The sound of the door closing and being locked behind him caused Shayva to stir, though she did not open eyes, but cracked a subtle smile.
“Your back…how was it?” Her voice was muffled through the sheets, but did not sound overly concerned.
“I’m back, finally. Do you even know how long I was gone…or what I was doing?” Though he tried to remain strong, his words betrayed the terror that had built inside him.
“You were on a salvage mission, for us, for everyone here. I know you’re back…” Shayva’s voice trailed off as a fresh wave of opiate lust covered her mind.
Nevik feared for the safety of both himself and his wife, and desperately needed her attention. He climbed onto the bed, softly touching his wife’s hip as she rested on her side. “Shayva, they’re murderers and slave-drivers, all of them. They send us out to rape and pillage, hoping we’ll get ourselves killed. I don’t think you’d survive one of these missions…” Shayva had drifted back into sleep and snored lightly as he spoke, upsetting her husband who began shaking her upper leg. “Do you hear me!? These are sick people here, we have to leave..”
Shayva angrily rolled over so that she could face her husband. Bruises ringed her neck like a collar where someone had strangled her; bite marks were visible on her chest. “Jesus Nev, just do whatever you have to; we have it good here.” She brushed his hand off her hip in a whimper of slight pain. Nevik pulled her linen pants below her hip, revealing bruises across her ass.
“What the fuck is going on here?” Nevik recoiled in horror. “How did this happen! It’s time to leave – NOW.” He leapt off the bed and began checking the door for weaknesses.
Shayva sat up, covering herself with the unbuttoned linen top. “Calm down, Nev. No one did this to me, I let them; I was assigned reproduction duties. Actually they said I did a great job, and I don’t have to work again until next week.” She laughed to herself. “It’ll take at least that long before we can be sure I’ve conceived; besides: my body’ll need that time to tighten up again.”
“Are you listening to yourself? You’re allowing them to use you as a sex toy, and a violent one at that.” Nevik examined the bruising around her neck. “Why would they do this?”
Shayva pushed his hand away with an air of annoyance. “Don’t fuck this up Nevik. I know what I’m doing, and I’m ok with it. The Program keeps me well, and as long as I do my part, I stay well. That’s more than you ever offered.”
Nevik was disgusted. Had she always been like this? Or was her newfound behavior and lack of self-respect the result of the new medicine. “We have to get out of here, Shay. They’re going to kill us once they’re through with us…do you understand that?”
“I understand you’re afraid, as usual.” Shayva let her body fall back onto the bed, the mocking tone of her voice bouncing with her head as it hit the pillow. “Afraid of doing what has to be done to survive. Is the big bad world too scary for little Nevik? Suck it up – do what you have to.”
“They want me to murder innocent people, Shay. Is that ok with…” the slit in the door opened, delivering their doses, and interrupting Nevik.
“Whatever it takes to stay well…” Shayva’s voice trailed off as she stumbled from the bed to retrieve her meds. “Whatever, whatever, whatever…” The mattress muffled her voice as she landed face-first on the linens.
Nevik stood watching helplessly; the dose waiting for him in the door compartment seemed to call his name, but the sight of his abused wife made it hard to accept the Program’s charitable offerings. Realizing the propopinol shot would be wearing off soon, he snatched the small bottle containing the syrupy red medicine and downed the contents, aware that the dose was slightly higher than in previous days.
By Nevik’s best guestimate, more than two months had passed since he and Shayva had been taken in by the Program. He had tallied more than 120 doses on the wall of his hotel room, and with every passing week, the bottles containing the medicine had become more full. Over the course of that time, Nevik had been sent on several salvage excursions, and had witnessed fellow Program Members commit unspeakable acts of ultra-violence on citizens scraping to hold on to any fleeting vestiges of life before the Last War. Regardless of how these atrocities had affected him mentally, Nevik had not expressed his disapproval at the Program’s methods since his abstention therapy. He simply travelled to whatever destination was assigned and collected whatever goods were available, all the while ignoring the screams of innocent lives being shattered.
Over the course of the transpiring months, Shayva had devolved into the worst kind of junkie; willing to trade sexual favors to Program leaders in return for higher doses. She had hardly looked at her husband during the past few weeks, let alone had the strength to satisfy him during her recuperation periods. Worst of all: Shayva seemed content to live out her days as a slave to the Program. Nevik, however, had decided to break from the Program and return to the savage beast of the post-war world. This would be his last day as a Member of the Program; he just hoped he could convince Shayva to leave with him.
“Shay, it’s time to get up; our doses will be here soon, then we have our periodical reviews with the Administrator.” He sat on the edge of the bed, already dressed in his work clothes, ready to make this day his last as a slave.
The word “dose” worked like an alarm clock, and Shayva sat up in bed like a puppet being pulled by a string. “Finally, I slept like shit last night. I knew I should’ve taken my extra rations before going to sleep.” Because of her willingness to participate in the charade of the Program, she had been afforded daily allotments of propopinol shots to help her sleep. Shayva reached into the nightstand furnished by the hotel, but the shot was not there. “Where the fuck is it, Nev? Did you touch my shit?”
Nevik sat motionless on the bed. “No dear. Salvagers aren’t allowed extra rations, remember?”
“Well it’s not here…I know I left it right here!” Shayva flung the contents of the nightstand across the room, but could not find her shot.
“Maybe you used it already, and forgot. Besides, our doses are ready.” As the words left his mouth, the compartment in the door opened, containing to full bottles of medicine. Nevik took his and swallowed it whole, while Shayva rushed from the bed to take her own dose.
As soon as she had downed the medicine, Shayva screamed into the door-slot, “He took my extra rations! I want to speak to the Administrator!”
Without any verbal response, the door opened, the guard in medical scrubs stood standing on the other side. “Is this true? Did you unlawfully appropriate this woman’s rations?”
“Of course not…she’s high, probably doesn’t remember taking it.” As he spoke, Nevik looked his wife’s battered body up and down: bruises and marks covered her skinny frame; her ribs poked out of her chest and her breasts had shriveled into nothing. The beauty he had come to recognize in her had been all but used up in a matter of weeks. He couldn’t imagine how the small bump in her belly had survived even this long. “Look at her; clearly she’s taking too much.”
“Fuck you Nev! You don’t know shit! I want to speak with the Administrator…now!” Shayva’s voice was filled with a hatred Nevik had never known his wife to possess.
“Very well,” The guard seemed pleased, “we’ll see what the Administrator has to say about this. Let’s go!” Shayva hurried out of the room towards the elevator, still topless. Nevik slowly followed, unsure how his plan would unfold.
As the elevator reached the penthouse, Nevik slipped the propopinol popper he had stolen from his wife the night before out of his sleeve. When the elevator chimed, marking their arrival at the Administrator’s penthouse, Nevik jabbed the popper into the neck of the guard. The elevator doors opened just as the subdued guard could no longer fight the effects of the drug. Obviously he was one for clean-living, and his body was not accustomed to heavy narcotic highs. The guard’s heavy body collapsed face-first onto the floor of the suite, interrupting the Administrator, who was engaged in some romantic appointment. Rather than the fine suit Members of the Program had come to associate him with, the Administrator was dressed in little more than a robe. The young street urchin engaged in pleasuring him sat up in bewilderment, her wild eyes still filled with the chaos of the street. Ruth Sindow looked on in approval, smiling at Nevik as he entered the suite.
“No one told you to stop.” The Administrator’s voice was defiant, as he showed no fear of the intruders. Ms. Sindow nodded her head in a gesture for the girl to continue her duty, to which she obediently complied.
Shayva turned to her husband, “Nevik don’t! I told you not to fuck this up!” She clawed at her husband with bony fingers, the force of which negligible.
Nevik grabbed her by the arms and spun her around so that they both faced the Administrator. “Enough! I want out!”
“Of course you are free to leave as you please, Nevik, but tell me, where will you go?” Ms. Sindow’s voice was soft and professional. The Administrator seemed hardly embarrassed of the fallacious activity in which he was engaged.
Knowing his wife had been subjected to the same heartless scenario, Nevik snapped. “Anywhere but here, you sick motherfuckers! We’d rather die than be your slaves; spending the rest of our lives doing your dirty work!”
The notion of leaving the Program immediately became clear to Shayva, and in a single movement she twisted herself free from her husband. “No, Nev. I’m not leaving. I told you, I like it here.” As she spoke, the Administrator extended a hand, inviting her to join in his indiscretions.
“For this, Shay? You’re willing to trade your life for this?” Nevik was pleading now, though he knew he would not convince her.
“The woman’s spoken, Nevik. Now, be a good boy, take your medicine, and get back to work. I promise, there will be no abstention therapy this time.” Ms. Sindow stroked the urchin’s hair as the girl performed her task.
The Administrator took Shayva’s hand, which had joined the street urchin between the man’s legs. “This one’s been too good to me, and so for her, I will spare you.” Shayva gurgled something in affirmation of the Administrator’s declaration, though it was indiscernible through the sucking and moaning that had engulfed her.
Nevik looked across the room at the mirror concealing the cabinet with the stockpile of propopinol. “Fine. Then I take what’s owed.” He quickly crossed the room, ignoring the indiscretions of his wife and the Administrator, who likewise ignored him. Ruth Sindow, however, watched the young man as he fought to hold onto any shred of dignity he may have had left. “Nevik, I know it seems hard now, but it is for the good of the community. Members cannot reproduce with other Members, or else the offspring would be born addicts. This way, we use the clean seed of the Administrator, ensuring a strong work force for future generations. It is all in the best interest of the Program. If you leave, you will become sick; you will die. No one wants that, Nevik, so please, won’t you stay?” Ms. Sindow unbuttoned her top as she spoke, revealing expensive black lingerie. “We do have other means of compensation.” Nevik paid no attention, as his sex drive had been killed by the rampant dosing provided by the Program.
He collected as many poppers as he could carry; he guessed it would be enough for a month or so. Before he entered the elevator, Nevik turned to his wife, who was being strangled as the Administrator penetrated her mouth while the urchin pleasured her. “Shay, please, I’m leaving now. I want you to come with me.” His wife did not respond.
As the elevator doors closed, Nevik could hear the voice of the Administrator chasing after him. “Don’t worry, my son, she’ll be coming with me, I promise.” The doors closed and the elevator began descending to the street level of the hotel. Nevik could feel tears pooling in his eyes. Without thinking, he brushed away a tear then administered a popper. The instant relief outweighed the doses he had taken over the last week, and he could not help but smile.
The elevator opened, and the cold air of the deserted world had passed into the warm spring air that is easily forgotten during winter. His speeder sat waiting, and after quickly examining the machine, retrieved the key hidden in the magnetic box under the carriage. Nevik jumped on the vehicle, turned the ignition, and revved the engine. Screeching out of the hotel parking lot, the warm sun of the spring morning shined on his face. He did not know where he would go, but he knew what he would do; he would survive. Eventually, he would return to the Program with an army of survivors and tear the place down, brick by brick, addictizen by addictizen. He did not know how he would maintain his sickness once the small stash he had commandeered from the Administrator ran out; it didn’t matter. He knew he had enough at least for today, and tomorrow, well, that’s just some other day.