walk through the streets of a dead city. I have about forty pounds of gear on my back, or eighteen kilos if I feel like being metric. Being metric is one thing that helps keep me sane. Converting things from the Imperial system to the metric system even though I think in Imperial units provides a nice mental exercise.
My dog, some sort of sighthound, probably descended from a whippet, trots along beside me. I named him Mirage after the French fighter jet. I was young and a bit foolish. Not as bad as my friend's cats who are named after a few lightning-slinging pocket monsters.
To be honest, I lied when I said that the city is dead. There's life everywhere. People, like me, still make their homes in it. However, with the ruined farmland, it became near impossible to support the throngs of humanity. There are a few like me who still eke out an existence in this urban frontier. There are also the feral animals and plants overrunning cement and concrete.
I'm relatively well-prepared for hunting and dealing with any unfriendly bandits. I've got a bow. I'd rather a rifle, but I can't afford one. Thankfully, the bow is very stealthy and arrows are generally reusable. I've got a revolver, a single action that accepts either .357 Magnum or .38 Special. I've got a hatchet and a flare gun. With practice a hatchet is as good as a crowbar for breaking through stuff. The crowbar is a weapon of a free man, though. A flaregun is always good. A green flare is invite for a peaceful meeting. A red flare is a call for help. Even bandits acknowledge flares. Other bandits and hunters will hunt them if they don't.
My dog barks, spotting something.
Score. I never mentioned what I hunt. I hunt yukkuri. Basically, they are intelligent and durable, for a certain value of both terms, pastries. Typically, they are filled with some sort of sweet azuki bean paste. If you like Asian confections, they are pretty tasty. Nobody knows how they got here. However, they are an obnoxiously invasive species. All the wrecked farmland, their fault. They are the reason for this urban jungle. They aren't durable, but they take care of their young pretty well and often have litters of up to ten. A bunch of them die, but with their gestation period of a few days, two yukkuri can become four-thousand within a year. Eighty to ninety percent mortality for young isn't unheard of but they reproduce exponentially. Their main defense mechanism is that they look like cute human heads and can talk, which gave and still gives many pause before exterminating them like roaches or rats.
Nice yukkuri tend to taste sweeter, so I do my best not to kill them. I prefer the malicious ones as they aren't nearly as sweet. Add some savory seasoning and they make a good soup. There is an art to preparing them. The malicious ones tend to inspire a cathartic rage which causes people to want to torture them. Unfortunately, stress makes them sweeter because they store simple sugars in their bean paste and excrete it for more energy in a flight or flight reaction. A malicious one, a shithead as it were, tastes something like dry red beans. Whisk that up and boil it in a pot with a bit of ham and the holy trinity of bell pepper, onions, and celery and you have a reasonably nutritious meal.
I watch the yukkuri. One is a brunette “Reimu” the size of a basketball and another “Marisa” is of a similar size. They have a dozen baseball sized children following them, five “Marisa” types and seven “Reimu” types.
Unfortunately, these appear to be nice. But there is a quick test. Additionally, sweet yukkuri are popular for selling. With farmlands and wilderness devastated, the yukkuri has become a staple part of the diet. My father was born before they overran the land.
I take out my guitar from its case. It makes lonely nights less lonely. At night, you can have hunters and bandits from all over the city engaging in impromptu concerts. Some sing, others play various instruments. Simple woodwinds and portable strings are the most popular, but there is one guy who plays drums in the Japanese fashion. As for me, I play a seven-string guitar in the Russian style.
So, I play a folk song. Can't remember the name, but it's tune if a favorite of mine.
I sing a bit of bastardized Russian and Russian-sounding gibberish to the tune. I picked up a bit from my dad, who was a Russian translator back during the Cold War. He tried to explain it, but the whole thing always confused me.
“Yu! Mister Song is very easy!” says the Reimu. She seems decent enough.
“Marisa doesn't trust Mister Human,” says the Marisa. She lost an eye and her hat and body are damaged. Obviously, she had a run in with an abuser. I don't like abuse. It makes nice ones too sweet and mean ones which are good for savory dishes sweet. This is a good haul.
I stop my playing.
'Take it easy, Yukkuri!” I say with a false enthusiasm. They are incredibly gullible. A declaration of easiness will fool all but the smartest ones or ones with the most traumatic experiences regarding humans.
“Take it easy!” they reply. The big Marisa isn't happy, though.
“Mister was lonely and wanted to be very easy, so he played his song. Do you like easy songs?” I say.
When talking to them, talking in the third person makes them more comfortable. Marisa approaches me.
“Mister's easy song was very easy, but Marisa's wife and children are looking for an easy place far from Misters,” she says.
Technically, yukkuri are hermaphrodites. But because they have feminine, albeit cartoonish features, they are referred to with feminine pronouns. I learned “hermaphrodite” from the library. A lot of it was wrecked and stolen, but a few hunters and myself hang out there. It's become something of a neutral hideout. Even moreso after a group of monks began to use it as a monastery and preserve the knowledge. The monks are willing to tutor hunters, bandits, and those seeking sanctuary. Because of their wisdom and knowledge, there are always a few hunters or bandits patrolling the library with a kill on sight order for yukkuri, as they wreck books and shit all over the knowledge that helps keep us alive. A few “nicehead” Patchouli have made it in because they don't shit all over books and instead delight in it. The monks like their gentle nature.
“Ah, does the easy Marisa and Reimu and little ones have a clan?” I ask.
“Clan doesn't think Misters can be uneasy. Clan thinks that Misters are only to give sweet-sweets.”
A clan of shitheads. Score. Food for me, fertilizer for the farmers, and torture fodder for the abusers. Everyone is happy.
“Mister thinks that the Clan is uneasy, but Mister wants to see the Clan that treated Marisa and Reimu so badly.”
I might trade this family as pets. They seem nice. It's a damn shame, though. Pets turn into shitheads within a few generations. Why? Without the stresses of a natural environment, they often become entitled, greedy and malicious towards non-pet yukkuri. Thankfully, shithead Patchouli still respect books. They get thrown out all the same.
“Marisa doesn't know. Mister has an uneasy Mister Mask.”
This one is damn smart for a yukkuri. It recognizes that most bandits and hunters have some sort of mask. We often end up in situations where the air is noxious or there is smoke or choking dust. Also, they look cool. Masks often end up decorated and personalized. We also tend to go after yukkuri; bandits also go after people.
Smart ones are often afraid of “Uneasy Mister Masks.”
“But Mister played an easy song and hasn't touched you. Mister's Mister Dog hasn't attacked you.”
Actually, Mirage doesn't like sweet things that much either. He'll eat sweet yukkuri but he doesn't like it.
“Mister seems easy. But one move and strong Marisa will make you take it easy forever.”
Like it could kill me, but the thing is smart. I might end up keeping it because a smart yukkuri is good for chores.
“Lead the way, Easy Marisa. Mister will find an easy place for this and leave Marisa and Reimu and little Marisas and little Reimus alone.”
“Good. Easy deal is easy.” It puts out a prehensile braid, and I shake it.
I follow them. Someone calls out to me, sitting on a window ledge.
“Yo! Stalker, you taking it easy?” he says, laughing.
This is El Cid. His real name is William Sidney. He goes by the name of the Spanish warrior. Most hunters go by nicknames, only using their real names with friends. I was nicknamed stalker because I use a bow and once stalked a yukkuri clan for a week before I massacred them.
“'Sup, Bill. You taking it easy?”
“Sure am! What's up with you?”
“These yukkuri are taking me to their clan. These ones are niceheads, but their clan isn't very smart. They think that humans are only here to give them candy.”
“Classic shitheads. What are you going to do?”
“The usual, some for me, some for the farmers, and some for the abusers. I've got a nice trash bag with me. If some die en route, it's no big deal and it keeps them fed.”
“Hah! You have fun. I'm just hanging out after a hunt for some marauders.”
There are three main groups in the city. There are the hunters like me and El Cid who hunt yukkuri and other things for fun and profit. There are the bandits, who group together and are into the organized crime business in addition to the yukkuri business. Then there are the marauders, who are bandits or hunters that don't obey the flares and other parts of city etiquette. These guys typically end up killing a hunter or a bandit before everyone gangs up on them. They get hanged post mortem and left to rot along with a written warning. People still do it in spite of the gruesome examples.
Anyway, Marisa and Reimu lead me to their clan. I actually like them, so I carried the little ones for a bit as they couldn't keep up a human pace like the parents. Marisa was a bit stressed, but everyone had some hardtack for lunch. It's pretty hard even for people. I soften it up with a little water. Usually, I use some coffee, but coffee is expensive and poisonous to yukkuri. The results of feeding yukkuri caffeinated sodas are hilarious due to the paradox of sugar and caffeine. The parents, being nice helped their nice children. You really can't judge yukkuri as children. Most have a shithead stage which they grow out of.
The clan lives in what used to be a restaurant. They subsist one what they can scavenge, having long since eaten what was in the restaurant. A good chunk are bloated and lumpy, which is a sure sign of a malicious one. As much fun as it is to attack malicious yukkuri in the process of attacking nice yukkuri or each other, that is when they are sweet due to the exertion and stress of fighting. With their bigger size, normal yukkuri are easy prey for these. They can also stretch like worms more than normal yukkuri. I have no clue why.
The clan consists of about five hundred yukkuri. Some died in kitchen accidents, as filling stains are everywhere. Understandable. These things have about the intelligence of a toddler, often a retarded toddler.
“Take it easy!” I yell. The nice family is one a bench outside. I trust those parents.
“TAKE IT EASY!” they chorus.
“Give Deibu sweet-sweets!”
“Bawiza is a prettiest and strongest. Bawiza deserves sweet-sweets!”
I grab a shithead Reimu and Marisa and some of the nasty children.
Shooting them in the face with arrows repeatedly is both cathartic and it sweetens them for my plan. With the door closed, the others are too stupid to hear the cries. I must have shot a half-dozen arrows into each of them. I lick some of the paste from a corpse. It is sweet. With a my hatchet, I cut them apart and toss them into a pair of trash bags. One for the obvious shitheads and one for the rest who might be neutral or malicious.
I return to the place and they smell the “sweet-sweets”
I can't take all of them, I can only fit about a dozen bloated yukkuri and eighteen normal sized ones.
I separate some of the shitheads and open up the bag to them. They devour happily what had once been yukkuri. I tie off that bag and do the same for the normal sized ones. Then I leave with my catch.
Marisa hears the cries of an inability to take it easy within the trash bags.
“Mister is an uneasy Mister,” she states.
“Mister never lied. Mister wanted to see the clan. Mister never said what he would do when he saw the Clan. Mister is also going to honor the Mister Deal and find you a nice easy place. Doing this is very easy for Mister. Mister makes his living from doing this like how Marisa and Reimu gather munch-munch for their little ones.”
“Marisa understands. Do not come back to see Marisa or Mister will take it easy forever,” she says with some resignation.
I look around and find a nice place in an abandoned office building. They should remain safe if they don't have any accidents. The population still increases exponentially even with a natural eight to ninety percent child mortality rate. Evolution was kind to them in this respect. As Stalin said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” It might have been some other guy, but I'm not terribly bothered. If none die, the population can grow by an order of magnitude ore more every generation. That would be bad.
I make my way through the streets back to El Cid. Cid was napping by the window.
I set down a bag, ignoring the squeals, to pick up a small rock. I aim it at a window. I throw the rock and smash in the window. El Cid freaks out, flailing. He collects himself and quickly has his machete and semi-automatic pistol in hand.
“El Cid, I've got a haul of about thirty of the things, provided they haven't cannibalized each other. With both hands full, I need someone to watch my back.”
“Sure, buddy. Did you really have to do that?”
“You're a good fighter but you're a deep sleeper.”
“Fuck you, man.”
“Let's go to the Razors' Village.”
Nonetheless, El Cid comes down. Thirty yukkuri isn't a bad haul. I want something better than beans tonight.
The Razors are a gang of bandits. They have three silver blades on their clothing to mark them as such. They live in an old department store. The location is a hub of traffic where people flock. Just as the city planners intended.
“Get out of here, Stalker!” someone calls in a friendly voice. I still don't get why that is so damn funny.
Yeah. Bandits don't have the nickname culture of hunters.
“Not much. Just organizing a raid on some folks that pissed us off.”
“Cool. Farmers, huh?”
“I've got a load of the damn things. 12 definite shitheads. 18 normal. Some might have died, but who gives a shit?”
“You've got a lot of shit in your mouth, Stalker.”
“Fuck off, Brian.”
There's no malice. We go through this almost every time we meet.
We walk over to a small pit, about a yard deep. I open up trash bag number one and roll out the shitheads. They screech their usual things. A hatchet slices one nearly in two.
I'm getting better at this hatchet throwing business; maybe I'll be like that legendary man called Black Ops who throws axes across the city to kill everything. He didn't fear anything.
I dump out the rest. Another chorus.
“I was thinking of being able to lay low here for a bit and some supplies for these. If I were you, I'd shake up the shitheads and have them refresh to death Then grind up the black stuff that remains for some fertilizer. Do whatever you want with the rest.”
“I actually like that. Deal. I'll throw in another tidbit for that. There have been some helicopters flying around. I heard that the government is sending some researchers out here, and they might want some help from locals.”
“Thanks, man. Good deal.”
“Hey, you've been a reliable hunter whose helped us out over the years. You get preferential treatment.”
“You mind letting El Cid stay? He helped me out with the deal.”
“I don't, but he left once you got in with the stuff.”
So, I end the day with a cold beer in one hand and a warm girl in the other. After two days, I leave, thanking Brian and his folks for the hospitality.
“Don't mention it, Stalker.”
So, I wave goodbye and head back to the city.
I hear a sound in the air.
Yeah. That has to be a helicopter.
What the hell, I'll check it out. Knowledge is power, and I could get something nice with info about this thing.
I look up and see the black shape. I've never actually seen one before in real life, just in pictures in the library.
It's not terribly difficult to track. But fuck, that thing is fast. I follow it out to a clear field outside the city limits. There are some others, but I avoided their attention. Some idiot decides to take a potshot at the helicopter. Soon enough, a bunch of folks are shooting at it.
What the FUCK was that!
Those guys shooting at it were just there. Then that noise comes up and -Holy fuck! Blood everywhere! I take a look through a pair of binoculars. There's a guy in some sort of military uniform. He's holding some sort of thing. It's got a bunch of gun barrels. It must be one of those minigun things. Mirage immediately runs to safety, barking.
He's looking at me. The barrels are starting to spin.
I hit the ground.
That insane gun roars. The brick wall behind which I was hiding was practically sawed apart by a shower of bullets.
I'm covered in brick dust, but I'm alright.
I start to run. I hear that noise and dive. More bullets pass around me. One pierces the canteen on my back and water starts to leak, but I'm not moving.
“Stupid Mister is at Deibu's level. Give me sweet-sweets and you might get away easy!” shouts a fucking yukkuri.
It's out of my reach, taunting me. If I move, that asshole on the minigun will shoot me.
I fumble to draw the revolver from its holster, wriggling like a terrified pastry. But I grab it and aim it at the Deibu yelling at me.
“Hey Reimu,” I say.
“Shitty Mister should-”
The bullet rips apart half its face, and I all I can hear is a ringing after firing the gun so close to my face. I start to crawl.
When my hearing returns, I hear the roar and then the continuous zipping noise, almost like a power drill, as bullets fly over my head and tear up grass and dirt.
I get up, and put my empty hands in the air. They shouldn't shoot me.
The helicopter touches down on the ground. A pair of soldier types walk over. Mirage comes back, thankfully. I was worried that he got shot or something.
I decide to voice my complaints.
“What the fuck, guys? I wasn't shooting at you. The fuck is up with that? And my fucking dog too, what the hell!”
I get a prod from a rifle butt for my trouble.
“Well fuck you too, asshole.”
I get a harder prod; shutting up seems like a good option now.
“Don't be so rough. If what he says it true, than you were a bit too trigger happy.”
A feminine voice come from the chopper. It commands respect, and I can't help but shudder a little.
“Yes ma'am. What should we do with him?”asks one of the soldiers, who seems a bit nervous.
“Keep him. A local guide can be useful. The woman steps out from the helicopter.
She is tall and blonde with features that seem slightly Asian. For a second, her eyes seem to be gold like King Midas's touch. She wears white lab coat over a purple dress. Her choice of footwear is a pair of combat boots.
“I'm Yukari Yakumo, a pleasure to meet you,” shes says, offering her hand.
I took a few looks. Some phrases seem a bit awkward in retrospect, but I didn't notice typos. It would help if you could point some stuff out because I do try to avoid them and I do want to make things easier for the reader.
>>292 Well, an obvious example is the last sentence.
>"I'm Yukari Yakumo, a pleasure to meet you,” shes says, offering her hand.
That should be "she says". Because even if you wanted to wrote "she's said", that's incorrect.
But unfortunately, I'm no proofreader, so I can only point and laugh at obvious mistakes, but I'll probably miss the sneaky one.