The Long Road Home
It had been another long night down at FEMA headquarters. Ever since the creation of the walls around the a section of New York City, whatever was left of the older government, those fools in the White House and Congress, had dissolved leaving military and FEMA to take control. Erin had luckily landed a job as a logistics. It ninety percent luck and ten percent network. She knew some of those who made the big decisions within the city, which allowed her to bypass the typical guard duty that civvies were assigned to. Those men and women had the worst of it. Patrolling beyond walls where the infected lie, patrolling within the walls where the Fireflies, a group of resistance fighters, fought, and then the brutal treatment of the civilians and to those suspected of being infected, these all made her shudder when she thought about it.
She had a bag over her shoulder as her blue fatigue’s fabric rubbed against one another. Presently in Sector One, presumably the safest of all sectors, Erin made her way to the checkpoint, which would lead her to Section Three, the beginnings of the residential areas. She fished for her civilian FEMA pass as a pair of guards came up to her.
“Working late again?” asked a female guard, which Erin saw each day. Must have been a regular with night shift. “Always here when I’m midshift.”
Erin hazarded a grin. “Even if we’re a hundredth of the size of Manhattan, there’s still plenty of things to do. There’s more to the eye concerning rations you know?”
The female guard laughed as her male counterpart joined the two. “How’re the numbers looking anyways?”
Her back tingled in apprehension. Though she technically worked with FEMA, Erin knew that they couldn’t regulate all the conduct of the guards. Her reporter senses from the past warned her that she was treading on dangerous waters, and an ounce of caution was needed—maybe more than an ounce.
“Headquarters doesn’t want me talking about that,” she said bluntly. “Policy and such. You know the dance.”
The guard stared blankly from behind his visor. Finally he nodded as he let his rifle hang loosely in his arms. “Leave politics to the civvies and brass.” A sigh escaped from the helmeted head as the rifle cradled in his arms. “At least that shit hasn’t changed. Got Fireflies in the city, infected outside, and secrets storming through the roof. Tch … at least sending us to the death hasn’t changed.”
Erin smiled uncomfortably. Not knowing what to say, she optioned silence instead. She just wanted to go back to her run down flat, use a water ration for a bath, finish off the stale biscuits that she received earlier, and be on her way. Hopefully it would be uneventful. The time where a shakedown right next door still gripped her with some trepidation. The white suits were there, scanning the ear canal of the suspected. Out of the three that were kneeled against the curb, a bullet was lodged in the heads of two: a man which seemed to be in his mid-age and a child who barely broke her teens. The resurfaced image made her queasy, and she tried to bite back her disgust. This place had truly changed. Not for the better.
“Davis?” the female guard handed back her ID card. “Don’t mind the grumpy asshole over there. He’s still sour from the poker game. What’d you lose Mike? Two ration cards?”
“You kidding? … One card and a half.”
“How the hell do you lose half of a ration card?”
“One that you don’t plan to fork up! That bastard cheated.”
Shaking her head in amusement, Erin quickly walked past the checkpoint as the two guards kept arguing. Their voices carried, but the further she strayed from the building, the less prominent their voices became. What replaced it now were the outraged and frightened cries of civilians as the soldiers walked through the compound. A ration stationed occupied an old grocery store to the left. A line had already formed past the block as Erin watched the haggard faces standing there. Their eyes were those who had lost hope yet tried to hold onto anything they could to survive. There was something else as well. A glimmer of distrust. That’s what was missing these days. Trust.
It was understandable. Erin, on many occasions, had been the victim of cons or larceny driven individuals. It was hard to get the coveted ration cards. There were two ways. Legal ones. Either you got lucky in the quarterly month lottery and got a three months worth of rations for the proceeding months or you worked, which included long, grueling hours, and the payout was never equivalent to the labor put in. Both are unappealing, but to survive, it had to be done. Probably why many were executed, black bagged, or simply jailed indefinitely. Mugging, stealing, and conning seemed the ways to go. Of course, smuggling paid out huge, but if the soldiers caught you, that’d be it. Martial law was still very much in effect, and no one was in a hurry to end that and revert to democracy. Fact and closed.
“What do you mean it’s closed?!” Erin was already at the corner of the next block when she heard the outraged cry. A tall, tanned skinned man dressed in ripped jeans, old jacket, and a beanie approached a guard. A visible amount of tension bristled about the two. “We’ve been waiting in this goddamn line for over three hours! I need the rations. My child! She needs the food. Please, there has to be something. Something!”
“Sir, I need you to step back,” said the guard as metal clicked against metal. “This is your first and final warning!”
More voices added to the dismay as others in the line let their displeasure be known as well. The man looked back, and ushered on by the bravery of others agreeing with him, he stepped forward. “You might as well kill us all then you fascist pig! While you guards grow fat, we’re starving! Who do you think makes the ‘rations’ you eat? Certainly not goddamn FEMA!”
A gunshot echoed against the surrounding buildings as screams rippled through the crowd. Erin flinched as she unconsciously hid behind the corner wall, her eyes slowly moving down. The man laid crumpled on the ground. His chest convulsed. She was glad the finer details were never seen by her. Movement from the other guards brought her back to them as they scattered the crowd who ran from the lines. While the others cleared them out, the one who shot the man walked forward. He let his rifle hang loose as he took out a small arms. Cocking it back, there was a moment of pause before another boom ricocheted off the ground. Welcome to the new world, a place where humanity tore itself apart be it by themselves or the infected.
Some time later, Erin emerged into her apartment. It was an old loft that had seen better days. The paint on the walls had begun peeling from the previous tenant. There were some gouge marks as well, which probably came into existence pre-fall. The decor was meager at best. There was a used refrigerator. Electricity didn’t run, so it was a storage of sorts. There was an occasional dry ration stored in there somewhere, but perishables were the first ones eaten. The luxury of cool ice and storing food was over.
There were other things laying about. Normal furnishings that had seen better days. Erin sat down on a torn couch as she placed her bag on the ground. She closed her eyes and sighed. She felt herself relax as the sounds from the streets filtered up through her shut windows. That was the nicest part of her unit. The windows hadn’t been broken. Spared from the constant announcements placed on the intercom above and the occasional gun shot, Erin was able to sleep better at night than most. This was probably another one of the hidden benefits of her occupation.
As she relaxed, a knock came from the door. Her eyes snapped open as she looked over with a guarded expression. It was late, and she wasn’t expecting any company. Retrieving a blunt object off the floor, she walked over as the insistent knocks continued.
“One second,” she said as she drew closer until she was right before the door. She opened it. “Anders?”
“Sorry to bother you so late,” said the man. “Thought I’d bring over your mail. Lady was delivering them and she seemed committed to you gettin’ them. I told her I’d hold it. Felony for opening someone else’s mail don’t apply anymore. How was work?”
Erin nodded in thanks as she took the mail from the older man. She scanned through it haphazardly until one caught her eye. “Same as always. Ration stations are getting more tense than usual. Raids are increasing too. Anders, they executed a little boy today.”
“No shit? Can’t say I’m surprised though…”
That got a brow raise from her. “You can’t be serious? They shot a kid!”
“I’m sure handfuls were put down in the other sectors as well. Who knows? Bad rumors in the farther Sections.” Anders huffed as his chest depressed. “I better let you go. Curfew’s about to kick in. Do you even have to worry about that?”
“As long as it doesn’t piss of the guards,” she replied. “Anyways, I’ll catch you later Anders. Thinkin’ about calling it a day.”
The old man nodded. “Good night Erin.”
She closed the door behind him as she leaned against the adjacent wall. Tearing the letter open from her friend, she quickly scanned the contents, Kera’s trademark scribble was aparant:
Need your help. Can’t discuss in the open. Remember the warehouse in Section 8? I’ll meet you there noon tomorrow, if you can make it. Please come Erin. It’s important.
Erin let that sink in as she fingered the paper’s corner. Kera sounded serious, which was like her and not like her in so many ways. She thought about her schedule for tomorrow and shrugged.
I think I can swing it she thought to herself. Erin made her way to her bedroom as she held the letter in her crossed arms. Wonder what she wants. Stopped helping the smugglers a long time ago. Eh, we’ll have to see tomorrow then.
She opened her drawer and took out some clean clothes. She walked towards the bathroom with nothing but her bra and underwear on. For tonight, she’d just forget about it and enjoy the water token she got. It had been some time since she had a nice shower, and she wasn’t in a hurry to let anything ruin it. With the shower on, Erin stepped in as the small droplets of water kissed her naked skin. Yes, she’d find out tomorrow; for now, she had a shower to enjoy.
Erin arrived when the letter had asked her to. She eyed a group of men huddled around a barrel with a modest fire raging in it. As punctual as ever, Kera was standing there waiting for her. It was odd to her that a smuggler would ever be on time given the types the profession drew. Well, there had to be an exception to everything.
“You came,” Kera said as a smile touched her face. Erin wondered how she was able to keep her hair so kept. The smudges were present on her face, but it didn’t detract from her attractive face at all. “Follow me. We can’t talk about it here.”
“Kera, it’s good to see you, but I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on.”
“I will. Not here though. I don’t want any … unwanted eavesdroppers listening in. Come on, trust me Erin.”
Erin frowned as she eventually gestured for Kera to lead the way. They didn’t travel to far. From what she could gather, they ended up on the opposite side of the warehouse. However, unlike before, there was barely anyone standing around. Barely. Standing near a crevice, Erin could make out a silhouette of a figure as Kera ushered her towards said silhouette.
“Human trafficking now? Kera I don’t want anything to do with this!” hissed Erin so only her acquaintance could hear. “This is even worse than the usual.”
“As if I would ever stoop so low. No. This is different.” She motioned for the third person to come over. “I need someone to take care of the girl.”
Erin cocked up a eyebrow. “Since when did you care about orphans? There’s hundreds of them in this city, Kera. I mean, look around.”
“Just trust me on this one. Please,” Kera pleaded as the girl drew closer to them. “This can be temporary. You’d be saving me here. I’ll explain it later. I just need someone to take her for now.”
Before Erin could respond, the person in question had arrived. She was a pretty little blonde Erin thought to herself. She bit on her lip as she didn’t know what to do. Not wanting to sound rude, she proffered a smile. “Well hey there.” She casted a sidelong glance at the smuggler before returning her focus back on the kid. She stuck out her hand. “I’m Erin.”
Nothing as of now.
Kim had been running her entire life. Running from her sister and brother which found 'amusement' in her strange body. The other girls at school from finding out about her, and thus they mocked her. Mocked her for never changing in the same room, never taking showers together with them. They said that she was dis-formed and strange, and that's why they never saw her naked. In a way, it was true. She was different after all. She had been born different, and that difference had been a curse her entire life.
She looked out through a crevice in a otherwise dark corner, furthest into a warehouse in the city she was in. The sun was shining through the window and she basked in the light. There was barely enough to light up half of her body, and barely enough space for her to be able to see some of the outside world. Kim could hear the voices behind her, even if they were few. Mumbling voices. Voices talking about her. They did not think that she knew, that she could hear them, but her hearing had always been quite good.
They talked, and talked. Questioning why she was brought here. Calling her cursed. All manner of things. She sighed. People always feared what they could not understand, or knew little about. That was a common fact in life, and with humanity. Sometimes, Kim wondered if the spores, the infected, if it was their punishment for being so cruel towards each other here on earth? Was it divine punishment? She did not know, nor did she care if she was going to be honest. If it was punishment however, it just proved her point even further. People had gotten even curler towards each other. They killed each other for a ration card, for a scrape of food. Hunger turns humans into beasts. Even if it had been a different kind of hunger that had haunted her life. Kim closed her eyes as the memories of her past started flooding back.
Her two siblings hovered above her, a pair of twins, one male, and one female, a number of years older than her, step-siblings, Kim being adopted. They had cruel smiles on their faces, and Kim was in tears. Her clothes had been torn off, her shame exposed. Her siblings stripped down soon after. "You know what to do.." her sister said. Kim had nodded. She had gotten onto the bed and spread wide. Her sister moving in front of her, guiding Kim's face towards her nether regions and her brother closed in behind her, and the rape began anew.
Kim had resisted a few times, and she had been beaten into submission every single time. When her parents had asked what had happened, her siblings had said that she had gotten injured while out playing, or fell down somewhere. Her parents had not bothered after that, and Kim had given up and accepted her fate. Almost every night since that first night. It had happened for years. When her siblings had left for collage, Kim had breathed out in relief, but every single time they had come home, it had begun again. She had started to want it, she craved for it. After she had stopped resisting, and gotten quite into it, her siblings had become gentle, caring, even respecting her periods and he had even started to wear a condom after her first period.
She had become addicted to their touch. Waiting for them to return to her, her heart fluttering with excitement and joy when she heard that they would come home over a weekend or over a break. Her siblings had always been happy to see her being to excited about it. They had praised her and loved on her, and she had made love to them. One time, when she was on her way to the bathroom, she had overheard her siblings talking. They had called her all manner of hideous things. They saw her as their pleasure doll, a toy, while she loved her siblings with all her heart. She had walked into their room, crying, asking about what they had said. They had laughed in her face, saying that all of it had been true. They had ordered her to undress, and she had done so. They had found her dripping, and had grinned. She knew it by then. She loved them, no matter if she was being used.
Her memories faded as she could hear a voice calling for her. Kim looked up, and away from the crevice, towards the person whom was calling out to her, Kera. She owed Kera a debt in her eyes. She had saved her. She had never really understood why though, nor had she cared enough to ask. After the outbreak, Kim had been running away from the infected instead of her siblings. Even if she had wanted to die herself after her siblings had died, her body and mind had refused just giving up. And now, here she was, in a dark warehouse, walking towards Kera and another woman. If her memory served her right, the woman was called Erin, which was only confirmed by the woman herself as she extended her hand towards Kim.
Kim looked at the hand for a while, then at the woman. She reminded her about Anna, her sister, and that made her shiver. Kim slowly reached out with her hand towards Erin, shaking, getting hot and flustered. "I-I-I am Kim..." she finally said. "This is not good....not good at all," she thought to herself and cursed in her mind. She shook the woman's hand before she broke the handshake and retreated back into the darkness. "That is not my sister! My sister is dead!" she shouted inside of her mind. The soft, yet firm handshake had reminded her about her sister, despite her attempts to calm down, she was burning up inside. She wanted to hug the woman, now behind her, and see if it was the same.
She glanced behind her once again, before she placed her right hand against her left wrist, and began to dig the nails into her skin, drawing blood. That calmed her down, made her see reason again. Kim quickly pulled her long-sleeved shirt over her arm to hide the blood away before she walked back into the light and she nodded towards the two women. "Sorry, I am ready to go now..." she said with a shaky voice, still in pain from her wounds.
Erin listened to the young girl stutter. She grinned ruefully as she shot a look at Kera. “She’s a shy one isn’t she? How did you find her?” Continuing to study the girl who had already turned around, Erin failed to notice the slight tremor in the teenager’s body. Serious crowd issues is it? “And what exactly do you want me to do? I’m already on the watch list. Seems traveling more than five sections is ‘suspicious’ activity.”
Kera grimaced as she kicked a small rock on the ground towards the warehouse wall. “There’s some bad stuff going on—within my profession. Oh come on, don’t look so shocked. Those in my trade just love danger. I need someone—someone trustworthy—to look after her.” The smuggler handed over several ration cards. “Didn’t think I’d make it harder on you, did you? This should cover her living expense. No, no, don’t say it. I know what you’re about to say or ask, and the answer is no. She’s not involved in any kind of trouble.”
There’s always a catch Erin had wanted to say, but kept that one to herself. Kera wasn’t the best at hiding when she was nervous, and this was one of those times. Still, no matter how much she wanted to take the child off of Kera’s hands, the risks were enormous. Nothing was ever so simple in Kera’s line of work. What if she owed a debt to someone and the person was here to collect? The girl? Erin knew absolutely nothing about her. Household registration paperwork would be a pain as well. FEMA was adament on knowing where everyone. Not even an employee or guard could get away with that.
“I wouldn’t be asking if I had an alternative.”
The two held each other’s gaze until Erin sighed. She had already resigned to the fact that she couldn’t get out of this one. She turned towards the girl. By chance, she saw that the girl’s long sleeve was damp. A dark stain slowly grew larger. Erin frowned as she stepped forward and grabbed the girl’s wrist ever so gently. She rolled back the sleeve. “Jesus.” She took a handkerchief from her pocket and wrapped it around Kim’s wrist as she worked in silence. “If you’re going to be staying with me—until Kera over there comes back for you—these kinds of things cannot happen. Understand?”
When she was certain the makeshift bandage wrap was secured snuggly, Erin stood back up. “How long will this be? Short term?”
Kera shrugged. “Not sure myself. I’ll send you another letter when it’s safe for her to return. Thanks Erin. You’re doing me a huge one here.”
“You don’t say?” she grumbled to herself. “We’ll need to get the necessary papers for yo—“
“No papers. No documentation,” Kera said. “They won’t be necessary.”
“…And if the guards knock on the door? They still have random checks Kera. She needs the papers.”
Shocked from the other woman’s forcefulness, Erin stood there in silence. There was definitely something else that was being kept from her. The processing took time, but it wasn’t invasive. Just a few medical checkups, information, and background checks and they’d be done in no time. The outburst only made Erin feel worser about her decision to help.
“FEMA has to stay out of this. Promise me.” Kera stepped forward and gripped Kim’s shoulder in hopes of reassuring her. “You’ll be fine kiddo. Believe it or not, a first rate smuggler is looking after you.”
“Careful Kera …”
Kera backed off as she laughed nervously. “Naughty past that miss naughty-turned-goody doesn’t want to acknowledge.” She heaved as the laughter died down. “I’ve got to get going. I’ll stay in touch.”
With that, Erin watched her leave as she began to walk towards the exit where she had come from before. “Lets get out of here then. We’ll be going through a back way. Without ID, you won’t be going through the checkpoints anytime soon.”
The travel was slower this time around. The two had finally returned to Erin’s apartment as the older woman threw her bag and jacket over the couch. She sat upon the cushy surface. “Come on in. I ain’t going to bite. Thirsty or anything?” She crossed her legs and glanced up to the ceiling. “You can’t go outside. Not until I figure out a way to do it safely. In the meantime, make yourself at home.”
Nothing as of now.
Kim watched as Erin bandaged her wrist. She did not care much about the previous discussion and would rather forget all about it. She did honestly not know why she was being helped, nor did she care that much. Although, Kera looked vaguely familiar, but she did not think that she had ever seen her before. Erin however, made her shiver. It was almost uncanny how much she looked like her dead sister. "I understand.." Kim said with a shaky voice as she tried to fight the pain, the impulses, and yet appear proud and dignified.
She tried to play it cool. She hated looking weak in others eyes. Kim hated being a burden and not pay for herself. She had not failed to notice the ration cards being handed over. Even though Kim knew that they would be needed, she did not like others paying for her. She decided right there and then, that she would pay Erin in any way that she could as well.
Kim nodded towards Kera. She knew that she would need papers, and she knew why Erin was worried. Kim wondered if there was something about her condition that made it so? Or if it was because of her family... Her family, the only reason that she could think about why papers should be hidden. Senior officials within FEMA and researchers. But why should Kim be kept away from them? She did not understand it, not at all, but she was not going to ask as long as her life flowed on normally.
Kim took it easy during their little journey around the back. She did not want to strain herself too much, but she did not want to be a burden either, so she did just as much as she needed to do and followed all of Erin's commands until they were at her apartment. She looked around inside. It was quite normal. Kim turned around and locked the door while Erin spoke to the ceiling. "I am a little thirsty and hungry...but there is something that we need to settle before that," Kim said and walked closer to Erin while her hands were wrapped around her waist and the hands grabbed onto her top and started pulling it off.
"Payment.." she said and stripped down quickly, only leaving her panties on as she showed off her body to Erin. "This is the only payment that I can do..." she said and blushed deeply, her skin bumpy due to the cold. "I am yours to use however you want to," Kim said and looked down at the floor.
Nothing could have prepared Erin for what happened next. It was the damnedest thing she had ever seen. If she had a mirror, she was sure her mouth resembled that of a big O. Clearly shocked, she hadn't noticed the girl's blushing face nor Kim's unique feature. She averted her eyes rather quickly as she reached for her jacket. She had to group around until she made contact with the fabric. Bundling up in her hands, she threw it at the girl. What the hell was wrong with this girl? Was she a whore? Did Kera push her into this? Jesus, she knew she should've found out more about her newest charge before saying yes.
"Payment? Kim, don't ever ever do something like this again." She stood up as she went to the refrigerator. She was lucky. It still had electricity, which wasn't the case for a majority of the inhabitants of quarantined New York. Many would kill for the power; she was careful when she used it. No need to invite prying eyes now. Grabbing a bottle and a bar, she walked back to the girl. Hopefully she had gotten dressed. She held out the provisions. "What the hell did Kera do? You're not some sex slave are you? Lord knows how rough those people can get."
She let out the breath she had been holding in. Why was she mad? She shouldn't have given a damn. This was temporary, and the girl would probably be taken off her hands sooner or later. She shrugged off the thought of having to look after her. She fished in her pockets as she took out the ration cards, which had been her payment. "As for as I'm concerned, this is your payment. Jesus, I don't even think your eighteen years old yet." She sat down on the couch again as shouts from outside her apartment echoed through the window. Those cries of the needy had been on the incline, and no one was doing anything about it. "...Sorry, Kim. Are you tired? Go catch a nap. I'll be awake if you need anything."
Nothing as of now.
Kim noticed Erin averting her eyes and reaching for the jacket and she knew what that meant. It was a no. In a way Kim was disappointed, and in a way she was really relieved. While she had not minded if Erin had taken her there and then, she did not particularly look forwards to that prospect of being taken. However, she hated being a burden. She hated not paying for herself. But she had no money. No ratio cards. Nothing to pay for herself, part from with her body. Due to her step-siblings, at least she knew how to do that. At least she knew how to please others.
She did not object however when she got the jacket and she quickly donned it and started picking up her clothes. Kim just nodded at Erin's rebuttal and started getting dressed again. It went quickly. After all, everything she owned where a bra, t-shirt, panties and a pair of pants, socks and shoes. She sighed. She really was a sorry sight she guessed. Unkempt, worn clothes, dirty. Kim accepted the food once Erin returned with it and sat down at a table and slowly began to eat and drink. "Kera did not do anything. She took me in and cared for me, then she promised that I would be sent somewhere safe and that I would not need to worry about payment." Kim looked down at the table. "And no, I am not a sex slave. But even though Kera said that I did not have to worry about payment, I don't like not paying for myself. And....my body is everything that I can use for payment since I don't own anything..."
Kim sighed as she was shown the ration cards. "I understand....and I won't bother you again with payment. But I'll clean and cook if possible....I hate sitting around." When she mentioned her age, Kim pondered a while. "Yes....I am not eighteen yet, just fifteen," she admitted reluctantly. Kim's eyes wandered towards the bathroom from time to time. "Do you...have a toilet and a bath or a shower in there?" Kim asked timidly. While she did not suspect rejection or being thrown out for asking like if she owned the place, she was still very careful.