“You’re not like the others,” she said to me.
“How so?” I gave her a sidelong glance as I tossed a few credits on the bed – a few more than her asking price.
She shrugged and reached for the silver tags. “Others like it a little rough, you know. They like to knock me around a little bit.”
I buttoned and zipped my pants, looking her over. “Just needed a good lay. Doesn’t make a difference how it’s done.” I turned and searched the floor for my shirt. The small apartment looked like it was cleaned once a year. A dingy brown carpet only covers half the floor, and I wasn’t sure brown was even its original color.
“You come around here a lot?”
My t-shirt hid in a bundle of stained sheets, blending in with their yellow and brown spots. I pulled it on, wishing I had thought to at least rinse it off in the last waterhole I came to.
“It’s just — I never seen you before,” she continued. “I been here over a year now.”
“Nope,” I answered. I slid my foot into a boot after sitting on the bed. I knew she wanted more from me. She wanted a regular that didn’t beat the hell out of her just to get off. Nothing I could say or do would fix that for her. “World’s too fucked to be worried about who’s coming around.”
I stood and looked at her one more time. Her tawny skin was unblemished, marked with a light sprinkling of freckles over her round cheeks. Big brown eyes blinked back at me, and dimples formed when she smiled. Beautiful hardly described her. I felt sorry for her, wasting around in this broke-down town. She could have done better in a bigger city, but she was an unfortunate victim of circumstance.
“You think you’ll come back?” she asked. Her long lashes batted with the question.
I couldn’t afford to show her the sympathy I felt, but my stomach tied itself in knots at the thought of leaving her there. Most of the women I paid were older, harder, and didn’t look at me like I could save their life. If I could have, I might have stuck around, but I had my own problems to deal with. “Sorry, babe. Got things to take care of.”
She frowned and flopped back on the dirty mattress.
“You were great.” I reached into my back pocket, digging for something else of value. All I found was a handful of coupons to the nearest market. “Take care of yourself.” I tossed them on the bed and took one last look at her. She still hadn’t bothered to dress. Too skinny, but she had nice tits – round, perky and just the right size with sweet little pink nipples. My eyes lingered over them for a moment.
I started to leave, my hand just touching the doorknob.
“Take me with you.”
I knew it. I sighed, shook my head, and looked back. “Can’t do that. You don’t belong out there.”
She crinkled her eyebrows and nose. “How do you know? Just ‘cause I’m a girl doesn’t mean I don’t know how to survive. Been doin’ it my whole life.”
I chuckled. “Honey, I’m sure you’re a real good scrapper, but I ain’t got time to worry about woman problems.” I turned the knob. “Besides, you’re too young for an old man like me.”
“I’m twenty! I don’t want nothin’! I just want to get out of here. I want to see what it looks like out there.”
“It looks like hell.”
She was standing beside me before I’d even realized she’d gotten out of the bed. A hand rested on my arm. “I’ve been through plenty of that,” she whispered. Her eyes pleaded with me.
My heart beat with a dull ache. What could I say to make her understand? The world outside was no place for a girl like her. It was hard enough for a trained killer like me. “Listen. I like you, but I can’t be worried about protecting you. I gotta save my own ass out there.”
“I can take care of myself.” She squeezed my arm, her little fingers digging into my rough, sun-damaged skin. “Take me with you.”
I sighed again and released the doorknob. “You got a name?”
I lifted a brow and tilted my head. “Baby?”
“My mom said she couldn’t think of a name for me. So she just called me Baby.” She flushed. “I’m no baby though. I’ve killed a man before.”
Baby flushed a brighter pink, eyes squinting. “I did! Right here in this room. He tried to choke me, so I stabbed him.”
“Huh.” I looked her over, checking for any signs of a lie. One thing I knew was how to tell if someone was lying to me. She wasn’t. “Get your ass dressed in a hurry.” Somehow she’d convinced me. Maybe it was those big brown eyes of hers or the little round ass she subconsciously swayed as she walked. Maybe I had gone soft. I wanted to take back the decision the moment I made it.
She slipped on her little red blouse and a pair of cut-off shorts. Somehow those clothes made her look older. She had the shape of a woman beneath them. I pulled the door open and peered out.
I stopped when I saw what was standing out there. Three Shepherds all dressed in white, pasty-white skin – like ghosts. Genetically enhanced soldiers sent by The Committee to kill anyone who’d dare to defy them, and I had done just that. Somehow they’d tracked me down to this dusty town. I eased the door closed and looked back at Baby.
“Is there another way out of here?” I whispered.
Baby was lacing up her boots when she looked at me. “The window, but it’s a twenty foot drop. Why?”
I didn’t have time to explain or to wait for her to finish lacing her boots. I slid the chain lock into place and darted toward the window, grabbing her hand along the way.
“What’s going on?”
The dust-coated window creaked as I forced it up. “If you want to live, you need to shut up and come with me.”
“Fine. Stay here and die.” My legs were over the window ledge. I shifted, looking for a safe place to land. A loud crack at the door was all I needed to make up my mind and jump. Bend the knees, I told myself. The ground came faster than I expected, and I felt the sharp sting of my ankles bracing against the hard dirt. Nothing broken, I turned and looked back up at the window.
Baby was already falling.
I barely moved out of the way when she hit the ground and rolled head over heels. “Shit!” I leaned down to lift her to her feet. Her knees wobbled as she stood.
“I’m fine. Let’s just get out of here.” She shook like a twig in a storm, but she was tougher than I’d expected.
Hand-in-hand, we took off, racing down the dusty street through town. I glanced over my shoulder one last time as I jumped onto my old bike. Two white faces peered out the window, plain and emotionless.
With Baby safely on the back, I turned the key, hit the clutch, and gassed it. Having her arms wrapped around me as I sped out of town went against everything I strived to keep in place. Women were supposed to be temporary. Men like me didn’t have the means to keep them alive beyond the safety of walls. The few who did make it out there became something I didn’t want anything to do with. Mean, vicious killers with enough rapes in their past to make them hate any man who crossed their paths. That wasn’t what I wanted for Baby.
I made up my mind to take her some place safe and turned right when I came to a fork. A little town about twenty miles from here was better than what she was used to. Most people there welcomed strangers, especially if they were pretty and young. Her arms wrapped tight around my chest. For a moment, I almost went back to turn left. Something in her embrace was warm – sincere.
Then I heard the roar of shepherd roamers following. Their vehicles were built for speed and outfitted with every weapon available.
Fuck. I hit the gas as far as it would go. My little bike wasn’t the best for speed, but I’d built it for handling off-road runs if I needed them. I made a sharp turn and raced toward the nearest crumbling city.
Most of the cities destroyed two hundred years ago were jungles in their own rights. Nature had taken over. The streets and buildings buckled under the weight of thick growth. Mountains of rubble blocked the way in for anything wider than three feet. This gave me the advantage on my junk-built putter. It didn’t hurt that they were considered free-zones. No one, not even shepherds, were permitted to enforce any laws inside. This was The Committee’s way of proving their laws protected their citizens. Most free-zones were crime-ridden, rapist-infested traps.
“Hold on tight,” I shouted to Baby.
Her face buried against my back, I could feel the moisture of her tears. Why the fuck was she crying? Wasn’t this what she wanted? I shook my head.
The city limits were just in view, my hands gripping the handlebars so tight my knuckles felt as though they might bust through the skin. The roar grew louder, drowning out all other sounds. If they came too close, gunfire would sing in destructive harmony with it. I couldn’t let that happen. I broke left and then right again. My heart thudded against my chest as I neared the narrow passage into the city.
I never even heard the first shot ring out when I felt the sharp sting in my shoulder. Baby cried out and I grimaced. My arm jerked with the shot as more whizzed past us and slammed into the concrete. Each one was designed to explode when it made contact with anything harder than human tissue. That way, missing didn’t always mean missing.
I almost lost control. The wheels wobbled beneath us as I ignored the pain and gripped the handlebar again. Sticky, hot blood already soaked through my shirt. Baby screamed something over the noise, but I couldn’t make it out. The only thing on my mind was making it into the free-zone alive.
It seemed time slowed as we came closer to the passage. Seconds lingered, and the impacts hit faster. The last thing I remember was the ground and Baby’s scream.
Copyright © 2015 by Sophie Giroir