They sat around the fire and ate the charred flesh of yesterday’s salvage. The three of them that time and toil had braided together into one. Three different humans with three different pasts and three different futures yet now interwoven. They were determination, wisdom, love. A holy trinity of human strife depending upon each other for survival.
Sometimes I still think about the old world, Ëoz said.
I try not to, Nihil said.
It’s gone and will never be again, Kiron interjected.
That’s true, Nihil said. There’s no use speaking about it. Perhaps it’s best not to.
Why shouldn’t we? Ëoz asked.
It’s better to leave it behind, Nihil answered. Let it be gone—the shattered memories of places and people forever lost in time. We should stop rummaging in the dark recesses of our minds for those broken shards that cut us as we find them. I say we make a pact to never again speak about what has been, that we from now on only look to the future. What do you say?
It’s a good idea, Kiron said. I’ve been thinking the same.
I don’t know, Ëoz said.
What use is it? Kiron asked her.
But the memories remind me of better times; they make me happy, Ëoz answered.
Those times are forever gone, Kiron said.
Still, Ëoz said.
You will always have your memories, Nihil said. They will forever be with you whether you speak them or not. You can always remember and cherish them if that’s what makes you happy. But we, He said and nodded toward Kiron, We will be better off leaving ours behind.
I’m not one for nostalgia, Kiron said. I can’t look back at happier times without feeling sad about them being gone. I wish I could, I do, but I can’t.
So, what do you say? Nihil asked Ëoz.
I guess, if you two want that, who am I to say no?
Neither of us wants to force you.
Okay, Ëoz said after a while, I’m in.
Everything up to this very moment will never be spoken about again? Nihil asked.
Yes, Kiron answered.
Okay, Ëoz said. But first, we should take this moment to say anything we think could be important before it’ll be forever forgotten—or at least never spoken about again.
After a moment of silence, Nihil said, Many years ago, I think I followed someone…
You said there were no others! Kiron snapped at him.
I’m not sure if there are, were. I lost the track in a desert.
So, what did you see? Ëoz asked.
Not much: tracks, a fire pit, a waterskin. It could’ve been anything with human-like feet that could use fire and tools. Fuck, I didn’t want to mention it; I don’t even know what I saw. It was so long ago. What if it’s a fabricated memory?
Or a real memory and a human? Ëoz said.
I guess, Nihil said.
Kiron sat silently with his eyes closed and jaw clenched.
What do you know about the apocalypse? Ëoz asked Nihil.
I only know the vague things Vör told me. I was dead before the end of the old world.
And I presume we were archived, Kiron spoke and looked at Ëoz.
Probably, Ëoz said. It makes me wonder if my husband is still archived or if he has been reincarnated. Maybe he is somewhere out there on the fields. Every time I see the faces of the dead, my heart skips a beat; I don’t want to look at them. Vör probably knows what happened to him if I could bring myself to ask. I don’t know which way would be worse, knowing he’s dead or knowing he’ll come eventually, possibly long after I’m gone.
Yeah, that’s why we should move on, Nihil said.
Oh, Ëoz said, I almost forgot… never mind, it was nothing. Fuck, do the old world mean so little these days that not even I can find something to say about it?
Kiron, anything? Nihil asked.
Me neither, Nihil said. Ëoz, anything else?
Okay, enough chatting for today, Kiron said and got up. How should we split the tasks? Ëoz keeping watch while Nihil and I scavenge?
I’d rather scavenge if that’s okay? Ëoz said.
You did that yesterday, and the day before, Kiron said.
Yeah, but I’m good at it. Better than you.
Whatever you two decide, I’ll be outside, Nihil said. He threw a skinsack over his shoulder and went out the opening. A moment later, Ëoz emerged with a skinsack slung over her shoulder. Then Kiron came through the opening and immediately began climbing to the top of the structure.
Scavenge? Ëoz said, looking at Nihil with a smile.
That’s the plan, He said.
They took their walking staffs made from bones bound together with leather and headed down into the crater.
It’s summer, Nihil said, Yet we haven’t found any living.
Yeah, that’s weird, Ëoz said. Weird that it’s only us three.
Hey! That one looks fresh, Ëoz said, pointing.
Yep, Nihil said and went there and poked it in its back with his staff.
Ëoz bent down and flipped the body over. Its throat was cut to the spine.
What the fuck, Nihil said.
How? Ëoz said.
Kiron, Nihil continued. Could he do something like this?
Ëoz fell silent, and then she spoke, Don’t be mad at me—please promise me that.
Okay. I promise.
The dead man that night you came back, Kiron had killed him. And he has killed many more. I’ve tried to talk him out of it, I have, but he won’t listen. He just says it has to be done. I hate it when he kills people—I feel sick thinking about how I’ve eaten them, She said and began to sob.
It’s okay, Nihil said as he looked up at the structure and saw Kiron watching them. You did what you had to do to survive. You had no choice, Ëoz.
What happens now? Ëoz said, sniveling.
I’ll need to talk to Kiron.
Now. I don’t want it to burden my heart until tonight.
Nihil turned and walked toward the structure. He motioned for Kiron to climb down.
What is going on? What did you find? Kiron asked.
I found a dead man, Nihil answered.
A dead man? Kiron said, It’s hard not to find dead men around here.
He was killed.
What do you mean?
His throat was slit.
A suicide, Kiron said and turned to climb the structure again.
Or a murder, Nihil said.
What are you implying? Kiron said as he slowly turned back to Nihil.
That you killed him is what I’m implying. It was either you, me, or Ëoz.
Kiron remained silent for a moment. Then he said, I’m only doing what needs to be done.
Needs to be done, Nihil repeated. Death isn’t what is needed here; life is. Life!
Calm down. You’re right. Life is needed but now isn’t the time. We must first ensure the survival of those already alive—swelling our numbers isn’t an option yet. We have to tread carefully. More people would mean more mouths to feed, more wills to conflict, more chaos, a higher risk of everything being destroyed before it’s even built.
We need to save as many as we can, Nihil said. They will help us rebuild the world. For fuck’s sake, Kiron; if one of us dies, it’s a third of humanity.
There is no other way, Kiron said. I wish it were, but there isn’t.
They hadn’t noticed Ëoz approaching them. What are you two talking about? She said with the faintest of tremble in her voice.
The future of humanity, Kiron said and turned his back to them and began climbing.