World of Radiation

Still Human

Continued from ‘Fiends

“You can’t possibly mean that one of us should die for the other to leave this territory unscathed,” Derek questions.

The woman’s gaze softens, but it still holds the dark nature in her green eyes. “You don’t think me fair?”

Derek inches back a step.

The woman glances to the man beside her. “Am I not fair?”

“I think that’s quite a fair bargain, if I do say so myself,” the man returns. A dangerous smirk claws at his face, but he doesn’t watch her. He watches Derek and me. “A life for a life.”

“What could you possibly gain from killing one of us?” Derek questions further.

What is he doing? Why aren’t we running? These people are insane! I inch back a step and drag the shaggy-haired boy with me.

He doesn’t budge.

“Gain?” The woman’s expression drops like she’s shocked. “Why, quite a lot.” She exchanges a look with the man. “One less person means one less mouth to feed. One less whiny civilian to worry about. If you haven’t noticed, boy-” She spits the word like it’s an insult. “We’re trapped in here. How long do you think this food’s going to sustain us? How long do you think we’ll survive with weaklings like her!” Her hand flicks in my direction like I’m just a waste of space.

My heart sinks. I’m no fighter. I’m no scientist. I couldn’t even protect myself, but I wouldn’t call myself weak. I just… haven’t learned to adapt yet.

“She’s not weak,” Derek returns, his voice level.

The man smirks. “Is that why she’s trembling behind you?”

Derek’s hand tightens his grip on me.

“Tell me, boy,” the man continues, standing upright like he were a business man. “What’s the girl worth to you? What could you possibly gain from protecting her?”

“It’s not about gaining anything,” Derek returns. “She’s innocent. It’d be wrong to leave her to people like you.”

The woman bites a high laugh. “People like us?” Her green eyes flicker to the man beside her. “I dare say the boy’s insulting us now.”

“Insulting us in our own territory and we’ve been nothing but chivalrous to him.” A snarl overtakes his smirk.

My stomach drops. My skin crawls. The tension in the air thickens. “Derek,” I hiss, tugging on his arm.

“What do you say we let the weakling girl go, if you give yourself to us?” The man offers, a scowl setting hard on his face. “That’s a fair compromise. After all, she can defend herself, right? You said she’s not weak.”

“Derek, don’t,” I whisper. I don’t know him, but I definitely don’t know these people. Who knows what they’ll do to him.

Derek’s arm slackens in front of him, lowering the lead pipe slightly. “You’ll let her go if I give myself over?”

The two glance between themselves before nodding at Derek.

He glances over his shoulder to me. Something like defeat lingers in his dark eyes.

“No!” I exclaim. “You can’t. You don’t know what they’ll do to you.” My hands latch around his wrists.

“I don’t know what they’ll do to me, but I know what they’ll do to you.” His eyes dance between my own like he’s searching for something. “I’d never forgive myself if I gave you up to save myself.”

“You don’t even know me!”

“It’s not about knowing someone,” he explains. “You’re a good person. I’m not a selfish person. Besides, I’ll be fine. You’ll see me by nightfall.” He lowers his voice and leans close to me.

My breath catches in my throat.

“Head to Guthrie Theater. Stay hidden. I’ll come find you.” He pulls away.

I yank him back. “No. You can’t do this!”

He smiles at me. “Why are you trying to stop me? You don’t even know me.”

My words halt in my throat, unsure of why I’m trying to stop him. He’s trying to save me. Shouldn’t I let him? “Because I’m not a selfish person,” I repeat his words back to him.

His smile widens. “I’ll see you at nightfall.” He untangles himself and heads for the man and the woman.

“But-” I step after him.

Turning to me, he holds a blank, innocent expression. “Don’t you trust me?”

“No!” I return immediately. Why would I trust him? I don’t even know him!

He chuckles. “Good. Don’t trust anyone.”

“But-” My words stop. I don’t know what to say. I don’t trust him, but he’s giving himself up for me. He told me not to trust anyone, but he wants me to meet him at the theater.

“Alright, girly. Your boyfriend’s met our terms. Now, leave our territory before we change our mind,” the man demands, his expression darkening to a scowl.

I take one last glance at Derek.

He smiles at me weakly, pathetically.

A horrible feeling churns in my gut, like I’ll never see him again, but I can’t waste this opportunity. I turn and run.

I race down the street until I’m well out of sight of the three of them and still I run. I can’t stop running. My legs burn from running earlier. My lungs feel like a desert, but I can’t stop running. I’m too afraid to stop.

I want to go to my dorm. I want to barricade myself in and never come out. But I can’t do that. That’s foolish. I need food. I need water. I can’t survive locked up in my dorm.

My legs give out. I trip and skid across the grass a short ways from the river. It ripples. The water bubbles and spits. It looks as fresh and clean as ever, while the rest of the city’s fallen to the fiends. Yet, they’re not all fiends. Some are still human.

Next Installment: My Only Hope


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